Meaning and Origin of 平成 (Heisei)
The name of ‘平成‘ (Heisei) reflects the wish for world peace. It was coined in reference to two Chinese phrases ‘内平外成’ meaning ‘peace inside and prosperity outside’ and ‘地平天成’ meaning ‘the peaceful and prosperous world’. The former appears in ‘書経’ (‘Shujing’,‘The Book of Documents’), and the latter in 史記 (‘Shiji’, ‘The Records of the Grand Historian’), both of which are ancient Chinese literature.
The Zeitgeist of Heisei Era
The Heisei era got off to an auspicious start, with Japan’s over-inflated economy reaching its pinnacle. At the time, the top 5 companies by market capitalization in the world were all Japanese, and the aggregate value of all land in Japan was said to be greater than the value of all land in the rest of the world due to the inflated real estate prices. Many Japanese people then held the mythical belief that Japan’s economy would be invincible and continue to develop for good. The euphoric zeitgeist of this bubble period is often featured in the media, and there are a great number of (somewhat exaggerated) episodes about this period, such as:
- Taxis in Tokyo were always very busy at night and very hard to hail.
- Therefore, people were waving their 10000-yen bills on the street to grab a taxi.
- Some companies went bankrupt because they had more work than they could handle.
- Night clubs were packed with many girls dancing and waving iconic feather fans in gaudy, jazzy dresses.
- Everyone could get a job after graduating from school.
and so on.
The Burst of the Economy Bubble
The inflated economy finally burst in Heisei 3 (1991), and this was triggered by many factors including the tight monetary policy of the Bank of Japan (BOJ). The burst of the bubble threw Japan into a long period of economic stagnation and deflation – so-called “The Lost Two Decades” (‘失われた20年’). By Heisei 15 (2004), the most expensive land in Tokyo’s Ginza business district fell back to just 1% of its 1989 level. Up until today, Japan’s economy has been stagnating and the average salary remains almost the same as two decades ago.
What is happening towards the end of Heisei era
As you may know, we Japanese people are fond of feeling ‘懐かしい’ (nostalgic) about the past. Therefore, as of today a number of TV shows have been featuring the past memories of the Heisei era and creating fancy rankings, such as ‘the most influential people’, ‘the most shocking events’, and ‘the most successful athletes’ in the Heisei era.
A Sea of Hypes using the Hackneyed Phrase “平成最後の” (Heisei saigo no)
Since Emperor Akihito determined to abdicate in advance before his death, the change of the era was planned more than one year before the scheduled date. Therefore, a plethora of events and activities advertised themselves as ‘平成最後の’, meaning ‘The last in Heisei’ to make them sound special. The examples are:
- 平成最後のクリスマス (The last Christmas in Heisei)
- 平成最後の花見 (The last cherry-blossom viewing in Heisei)
- 平成最後のホームラン (The last home run in Heisei)
- 平成最後のセール (The last sales in Heisei)
, just to name a few among billions. This post is, not to mention, going to be 平成最後の投稿 (the last post in Heisei).
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