Japan Announces Name of New Era
The Japanese government announced the name of the new imperial era, Reiwa, on April 1. Set to begin on May 1, after the current Emperor Akihito steps down, the new era marks the end of Emperor Akihito’s era, Heisei.
The government translates Reiwa as meaning “beautiful harmony” in English. Reiwa is derived from Manyoshu, Japan’s oldest poetry anthology. Notably, Reiwa is the first era name to come from a Japanese source; all previous names were inspired by classical Chinese literature.
The rei in Reiwa has sparked confusion and controversy due to its ambiguous meaning. Government officials point to a poem from Manyoshu where rei is used as part of the word reigetsu, or an “auspicious month.” Rei can also be interpreted to mean “good” or “beautiful.” Officials note that the English translation fails to capture the nuances of the term but conveys the general idea of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vision for the future.
The controversy comes from the more common interpretations of rei, which can be read to mean “order” or “law,” leading some to interpret Reiwa as meaning “order and peace.” This interpretation has raised concerns over the legacy of Japan’s militarism and imperial ambitions, especially in light of Abe’s continued efforts to expand the scale and scope of Japan’s Self-Defense Force. Tomoaki Ishigaki, a spokesman for Abe, pushed back on this interpretation in an emailed statement, stating that “order and peace” is “not the intended meaning.”
On May 1, Crown Prince Naruhito will assume the throne and, regardless of debates over its name, the Reiwa era will begin.