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April 1st, 2019


Welcome to the new era in Japan: Reiwa.

During the modern period--that is, ever since the Meiji Restoration of 1868--the eras have corresponded to the reigns of the emperor. That is, the Meiji Period equated to the Meiji emperor's** reign, the Taisho period corresponded to the Taisho emperor's reign, the Shōwa period corresponded to the reign of the Shōwa emperor--better known to people outside Japan as Emperor Hirohito--and it has been the Heisei period ever since Akihito, Hirohito's son, became emperor. Akihito is going to abdicate on April 30, and today, a new era name was introduced, Reiwa: 令和. On a character level, "Rei" means "proclamation," "law," "order" and "Wa" means "harmony," "peace," and also "Japan." The first character makes some people uneasy--all that law'n'order-ness of it. But the source material from which the name was taken is an ancient poem from a flower-viewing party, and in that context, the "rei" refers to the month of the party and the "wa" to the peaceful breezes. On Twitter, Wakanomori quoted Edwin Cranston's translation of the relevant lines:
It is now the *choice* month 令月of early spring: the weather is fine, the wind is *soft* 風和ぐ。The plum blossoms open--powder before a mirror; the orchids exhale--fragrance after a sachet.

[Translation by Edwin Cranston, from The Gem-Glistening Cup, 1993]

In Japan, these era names are used *a lot*--on official forms, etc. So I know, for instance, what year of the Shōwa period I was born in as automatically as I know what year of the so-called Common Era I was born in. My kids all date to the Heisei era--this will be their first new era. My grandmother lived in all the eras from Meiji on--this is the first one she's not alive for.

Anyway, for those looking for a new start--here's one!

ETA: Funny addendum from Twitter, courtesy of Amy Stanley, a professor of Japanese History at Northwestern (link to first tweet here):
In some sense Reiwa is a perfect name for this era, because ordinary people look at it like, “huh, maybe this is a little authoritarian?” And then experts rush in with a very complicated reading and assure us it’s all fine and we misunderstood.

It is the “but actually” of era names.

This entry was originally posted at https://asakiyume.dreamwidth.org/909817.html. Comments are welcome at either location.



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