ⓘ Reiwa


ⓘ Reiwa

Reiwa) is the current era of Japans official calendar. It began on 1 May 2019, the day on which Emperor Akihitos elder son, Naruhito, ascended the throne as the 126th Emperor of Japan. The day before, then-Emperor Akihito abdicated the Chrysanthemum Throne, marking the end of the Heisei era. The year 2019 corresponds with Heisei 31 from 1 January through 30 April, and with Reiwa 1 from 1 May. Reiwa is interpreted as "beautiful harmony".


1.1. Background Announcement

The Japanese government on 1 April 2019 announced the name during a live televised press conference, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga traditionally revealed the kanji calligraphy on a board. Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said that Reiwa represents "a culture being born and nurtured by people coming together beautifully".


1.2. Background Name selection

A shortlist of names for the new era was drawn up by a nine-member expert panel comprising seven men and two women with the cabinet selecting the final name from the shortlist. The nine experts were:

  • Sadayuki Sakakibara 榊原定征 – former chairman of the Japan Business Federation
  • Mariko Hayashi 林真理子 – screenwriter and novelist
  • Kaoru Kamata 鎌田薫 – trustee and president of Waseda University
  • Midori Miyazaki 宮崎緑 – professor at Chiba University of Commerce
  • Kōjirō Shiraishi 白石興二郎 – president of the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association
  • Shinya Yamanaka 山中伸弥 – Nobel prize-winning stem-cell scientist, professor at Kyoto University
  • Yoshio Ōkubo 大久保好男 – president of Nippon Television Holdings
  • Ryōichi Ueda 上田良一 – president of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation
  • Itsurō Terada 寺田逸郎 – former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Japan

The day after the announcement, the government revealed that the other candidate names under consideration had been Eikō 英弘, Kyūka 久化, Kōshi or Kōji 広至, Banna or Banwa 万和, and Banpo or Banhō 万保, three of which were sourced from two Japanese works, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Official pronunciations and meanings of these names were not released, although the reading of Eikō was leaked; the other readings are speculative. Predicted guess names included Anei 安永 and Heiwa 平和.


1.3. Background Origin and meaning

The kanji characters for Reiwa are derived from the Manyōshū, an eighth-century Nara period anthology of waka poetry. The kotobagaki headnote attached to a group of 32 poems 815–846 in Volume 5 of the collection, composed on the occasion of a poetic gathering to view the plum blossoms, reads as follows:

Original Kanbun text: 于時、初春 令 月、氣淑風 和 、梅披鏡前之粉、蘭薫珮後之香。

Classical Japanese translation kanbun kundoku:

時に、初春の 令 月にして、気淑く風 和 ぎ、梅は鏡前の粉を披き、蘭は珮後の香を薫す。 Toki ni, shoshun no rei getsu ni shite, kiyoku kaze yawara gi, ume wa kyōzen no ko o hiraki, ran wa haigo no kō o kaorasu.

English translation:

It was in new spring, in a fair rei month, When the air was clear and the wind a gentle wa breeze. Plum flowers blossomed a beautys charming white

And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry provided an English-language interpretation of Reiwa as "beautiful harmony", to dispel reports that "Rei" 令 here is translated as "command" or "order" – which aside from "auspicious" are the more common meanings of the character in modern Japanese and Chinese. The Foreign Ministry also noted that "beautiful harmony" is rather an explanation than an official translation or a legally binding interpretation.


2. Novelty

"Reiwa" marks the first Japanese era name with characters that were taken from Japanese classical literature instead of classic Chinese literature. The Chinese foreign ministry responded to a question from the Japanese media on this by saying that it is an internal matter for Japan to choose an era name, and expressing good wishes for Sino-Japanese relations.

According to Masaaki Tatsumi 辰巳正明, professor of Japanese literature, and Masaharu Mizukami 水上雅晴, professor of Chinese philosophy, interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun shortly after the announcement was made, the phrase has an earlier source in ancient Chinese literature dating back to the second century AD, on which the Manyōshū usage is allegedly based:

於是仲春 令 月,時 和 氣清;原隰鬱茂,百草茲榮。 Yù shì zhong chūn lìng yue, shi he qì qīng; yuan xi yù mào, bǎi cǎo zī rong.

Robert Campbell, director-general of National Institute of Japanese Literature in Tokyo, provided an official televised interpretation to NHK, regarding the characters based on the poem, noting that "Rei" is an auspicious wave of energy of the plum blossoms carried by the wind, and "Wa", the general character of peace and tranquility.

Accordingly, the name marks the 248th era name designated in Japanese history. While the "wa" character 和 has been used in 19 previous era names, the "rei" character 令 has never appeared before. The character appeared in a proposed era name in 1864 - Reitoku 令徳 - that the ruling Tokugawa shogunate rejected, as it could be interpreted as the emperor commanding rei the Toku gawa.


3. Implementation


According to the Japan Mint, which is responsible for producing Japanese currency, all coins with the new era name will be released by October 2019. It takes three months to make preparations such as creating molds in order to input text or pictures. The Mint will prioritize creating 100- and 500-yen coins due to their high mintage and circulation, with an anticipated release by the end of July 2019.


Anticipating the coming of the new era, in September 2018, the Unicode Consortium reserved a code point U+32FF ㋿ SQUARE ERA NAME REIWA for a new glyph which will combine half-width versions of Reiwa s kanji, 令 and 和, into a single character; similar code points exist for earlier era names, including Shōwa U+337C ㍼ SQUARE ERA NAME SYOUWA and Heisei U+337B ㍻ SQUARE ERA NAME HEISEI periods. The resulting new version of Unicode, 12.1.0, was released on 7 May 2019.