The name of ‘平成‘ 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. 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.
Alleged Traits of the Heisei Generations
The sluggish zeitgeist in the Heisei era has presumably changed the mind of young generations. It is often said that, compared to the Shōwa generations, young people nowadays are less avaricious and buoyant, and prefer a stable and secured life to a challenging one. Reflecting their passive disposition, a number of words and phrases have been coined that describe the new generations. Following are some examples of the expressions.
The phrase ‘若者の〇〇離れ’ is often used in the media, which means ‘Young people’s leaving from 〇〇’, where 〇〇 denotes what young people are said to have lost their interest in, or rather cannot afford to have. That includes:
若者の車離れ (Young people’s leaving from owning one’s car)
若者のアルコール離れ (Young people’s leaving from alcohol)
若者の結婚離れ (Young people’s leaving from marriage)
若者のブランド離れ (Young people’s leaving from high fashion brands)
, just to name a few. Obviously, these trends are closely linked to the staggering economy in Japan as well as in the world in the 2000s.
These days, people in their early 20s are often referred to as ‘さとり世代’ meaning ‘“satori” generation’, namely ‘“enlightened” generation’. Originally satori is a Buddhist term that means ‘the awakening of one’s true nature’, which is said to be attained through numerous enlightenment experiences. In this phrase, however, satori is figuratively and ironically used by older generations to describe their give-up and indifferent attitude to material desires; for Shōwa generations who once indulged themselves into drinking, smoking, night outs and sexual relations, the attitude of the millennials may appear listless and tasteless.
The word 草食系男子 means ‘”herbivorous” boys’. This word describes men who seemingly possess little interest in a romantic or sexual relationship, or those who are too shy and sissy to ask out girls. The antonym of 草食系男子 is ‘肉食系男子’, meaning ‘“carnivore” boys’, who are very active in asking out girls. The female counterpart is ‘肉食系女子’ meaning ‘“carnivore” girls’, who are very flirty and active in asking out boys.
What has been happening
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”
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:
- 平成最後の夏休み (The last summer vacation 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 homerun 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).