What is Shōwa Era?
昭和 (Shōwa) is the Japanese imperial era that spanned 62 years from December 25th, 1926 to January 7th, 1989.
Origin and Meaning of Shōwa
The 昭和 literally means ‘Bright Harmony’. It derived from the following line in one of ancient Chinese literature, ‘書経’ (The Book of Documents)
(translation) “(Emperor Yao) made people all brightly intelligent. (He) united and harmonized the myriad states”
This name reflected a wish for the peace of the world. Ironically, however, this era saw Japan rather threatening world peace by its involvement in World War II.
This era is often regarded as a tumultuous period, which saw Japan’s devastating defeat in World War II and subsequent startling recovery – the so-called ‘Japanese economic miracle’. The graph below shows that from 1945 to 1991, Japan’s real GDP per capita in 2011 US$ rapidly increased by 1400%, and reached a very high level, comparable to the one of the United Kingdom and Germany at that time.
“(citation) Maddison Project Database, version 2018. Bolt, Jutta, Robert Inklaar, Herman de Jong and Jan Luiten van Zanden (2018), “Rebasing ‘Maddison’: new income comparisons and the shape of long-run economic development”, Maddison Project Working paper 10”
Near the end of this era, Japan experienced its economic bubble, which went so far as to make Tokyo temporarily more valuable than all the land in the US. This colossal bubble eventually burst in a spectacular fashion and played economic havoc at the beginning of the next era, 平成 (‘Heisei’).
What is the ‘Smell of Shōwa’?
Since the Shōwa era generation are now over the age of 30, the term ‘Shōwa’ has come to be used to describe something ‘old’, ‘old-fashioned’, or ‘traditional’. For instance, the phrases ‘昭和の匂い’(Shōwa no nioi) or ‘昭和の香り’ (Shōwa no kaori), both meaning ‘the smell of Shōwa’, describe either the positive or negative atmosphere of the Shouwa era. Another expression ‘昭和臭い’ (Shōwa kusai) meaning ‘(something) stinks like Shōwa’ is also a common phrase to describe something old-fashioned and uncool.
昭和 is also used itself as a na-adjective. For instance, ‘昭和な雰囲気’ (Shōwa na hunniki) means ‘Shōwa-ish (traditional) atmosphere’ and ‘昭和な企業’ (Shōwa na kigyou) meaning ‘Shōwa-ish (old fashioned) company’. Those companies are usually regarded as Shōwa-ish where workplace harassment, male chauvinism, seniority-based wage system and/or long working hours are prevalent.
That suit kind of 昭和臭い (stinks like Shōwa)
= That suit is kind of old-fashioned and uncool (and reminds me of the Shōwa era).
The idea that women should not work but stay at home is quite Shōwa-ish.
I went to the cafe that scented the smell of Shōwa
= I went to the cafe that has a nostalgic and retro atmosphere.