— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) April 1, 2019
Today, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has announced the name of Japan’s new era, ‘令和’ (Reiwa). The new era is set to start on May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito will become the new Emperor after Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30. 令和 will be the 248th era in the history of Japan.
Word Origin and Meaning
It was announced that the new era name originated from the following passage in ‘万葉集’ (Manyoshu), 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 a severe winter. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that this name expresses the sense, “Culture is nurtured when people bring their hearts together in a beautiful way“. He has also mentioned that this name represents the hope that, just like a plum flower flourishes after the severely cold weather, every Japanese person will get their own “flower” to bloom vigorously and feel full of hope for the future.
In fact, it is the first time that Japan’s era is named after Japanese literature. All the other names, including the current era ‘平成’, were coined in reference to Chinese work. This is largely due to the fact that Japanese kanji characters are rooted in the Chinese language. 万葉集 (Manyoshu), on the other hand, is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry that symbolises Japanese culture, tradition and nature with four seasons, and it consists of a variety of work regardless of the author’s social class.
‘令和’ consists of the two kanji characters ‘令‘ and ‘和‘. Here, the 令 means ‘auspicious’ or ‘noble’ as in ‘令月’ meaning ‘auspicious month’ and 令嬢 meaning ‘a noble daughter’, which is also used when one refers to someone’s daughter with full respect. Generally, however, 令 indicates ‘order’, as in ‘命令’ meaning ‘order’ and 司令 meaning ‘command’, and therefore some people find the tone of 令和 somewhat cold. It is the first time that ‘令’ is used in an era name.
The latter kanji ‘和’ generally means ‘peace’, as in ‘平和’ meaning ‘peace’ and 調和 meaning ‘harmony’. This character also means ‘Japanese’, as in ‘和食’ (washoku) meaning ‘Japanese food’. Due to its hopeful and familiar tone, the character 和 has been used 20 times in total in the names of Japan’s era, including ‘令和’.
How Japan’s Era name is coined
Japan’s era name is determined after a great number of discussions among scholars, experts and cabinet members. In fact, there are some rules about the name of Japan’s Era, which were designated in 1979 as follows.
- It has a good and ideal meaning for the citizens
- It is composed of two kanji characters
- It is easy to write
- It is easy to read
- It has never been used as an Era name before
- It is not generally used
令和 indeed meets all of these requirements and contains a peaceful, auspicious, and stylish tone.