— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 1, 2019
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Today (1st April 2019), Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga announced that the name of Japan’s new era is 令和 (Reiwa), the 248th era in the history of Japan. The new era is set to start on 1st May 2019 and Crown Prince Naruhito will become the new Emperor on the day, following Emperor Akihito’s abdication on April 30.
Origin and Meaning of Reiwa (令和)
The new era name originates from the following passage in 万葉集 (Man’yōshū), the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.
(Translation) “It is the beginning of spring in the auspicious month, with the glorious weather and peaceful breeze. Plum blossoms are blooming white like beautiful women applying white powder in front of the mirror. The fragrance of orchids is wafting like that of clothes scented with incense.”
This work illustrates the scenery of beautiful plums blooming after going through severe winter. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the name of the new era represents the meaning: “Culture is nurtured when people bring their hearts together in a beautiful way”. Additionally, this name symbolises the hope that — just like a plum flower flourishes after severely cold weather — every Japanese will get their own “flower” to bloom vigorously and feel full of hope for the future.
In fact, this is the first time that Japan’s era was named after Japanese literature. All the other names, including the current era 平成 (へいせい, Heisei), originated from ancient Chinese work. This is largely due to the fact that Japanese kanji characters are rooted in the Chinese language. 万葉集 (Man’yōshū), on the other hand, is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry that symbolises Japanese culture, tradition and nature with four colourful seasons, and it consists of various pieces of work regardless of the author’s social class.
What 令 and 和 Mean
令和 consists of the two kanji characters 令 and 和. Here, the 令 (れい, rei) means “auspicious” or “noble” as in 令月 (れいげつ, reigetsu) meaning “auspicious month” and 令嬢 (れいじょう, reijou) meaning “a noble daughter”, which is also used when one refers to someone’s daughter with the greatest respect. However, 令 also means “order”, as in ‘命令’ (めいれい, meirei) meaning “order” and 司令 (しれい, shirei) meaning “command”, and therefore while some people find the tone of 令和 stylish, others find it have a little cold tone.
The latter kanji 和 (わ, wa) generally means “peace”, as in 平和 (へいわ, heiwa) meaning “peace” and 調和 (ちょうわ, chouwa), meaning “harmony”. Interestingly, this character also means “Japanese”, as in 和食 (washoku) meaning “Japanese food”. Due to its hopeful and familiar vibe, the character 和 has been used 20 times in total in the names of Japan’s era (including ‘令和), in contrast to 令, which was used for the very first time in the name of Japan’s era.