Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Japan's next era name

Japan's next era name is “Reiwa(令和)”, the government announced on Monday. The Japanese era name "Heisei(平成)" is scheduled to end on 30 April 2019 when Japan's Emperor Akihito will abdicate. He will relinquish the throne to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito. The new imperial era will begin on May 1.

Japanese era name called gengo used to be changed repeatedly for various reasons including new emperors' enthronement,  natural catastrophes, plague outbreaks prior to the Meiji period. It was established by law to change era names only when a new emperor acceded to the throne in 1868. The legal basis of the Japanese era system is lost in 1947 when the former Imperial Household Law was abolished. An era-name bill was passed, and legislation on the era name system was enacted into law in 1979.

The era names  started with Taika(大化, 645-650).  From Taika to Heisei(current era name),  247 era names were used. The kanji "令" is not included in the previous 247 era names. The kanji "和" is included in 20 era names such as Wado(和銅, 708-715), Jowa(承和, 834-848), Genna(元和, 1615-1624), Meiwa(明和, 1764-1772), Showa(昭和, 1926-1989). All era names other than Reiwa are derived from Chinese classics. Reiwa comes from a preface to a ume(plum) poem in "Manyo-shu(Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)", the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry in the late eighth century.

original text of the ume poem:

Early spring(February),  it's good month to begin everything, the air is clean, the wind is calm.
Ume blossoms come into bloom like a beauty who is putting on face-powder before a mirror.
Sweet herbs(or a party space?) emit scents  as if traces of a scented sachet emanate.

Its author is unknown, but the poem is said to have been written on the 13th day of the 1st month in 730 when a ume viewing party was held at Otomo no Tabito's home.

The collection of poems includes approximately 4,500 poems written by people from every walk of life from different regions of Japan over a period of about 300 years. Its poets consist of a variety of persons such as emperors, aristocrats, commoners, people at the very end of the road, front-line soldiers, punished or executed persons and beggars.

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