Home Asia News Japan is approaching the “Reiwa” era, the period of “beautiful harmony”

Japan is approaching the “Reiwa” era, the period of “beautiful harmony”

New Reiwa Era in Japan_StreetVJ-Shutterstock.com
Japan's Asahi newspaper reports on the name of the new era. Source: StreetVJ/Shutterstock.com

In Japan, a new era will begin on 1 May, when the new emperor Naruhito ascends the throne. The new era will be called “Reiwa”, as the Japanese government recently announced. The name was formed from words in Japan’s oldest collection of poems, “Manyoshu”. This marks the first time a Japanese era name is taken from Japanese classical literature instead of classic Chinese literature.

The reference to the traditional poetry collection is intended to pass Japanese heritage on to the next generation, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained following the announcement of the new name. He interprets “Reiwa” as “culture coming into being and flourishing when people bring their hearts and minds together in a beautiful manner”. The name should promote a sense of unity in Japan and contribute to further reform, Abe said.

Heisei 31, the 31st year after the accession of Emperor Akihito to the throne in 1989, is valid until 30 April. “Heisei” is translated as “making peace”. On 1 May, 59-year-old Naruhito will succeed his father as emperor. The latter expressed his wish to resign in the summer of 2016 due to his advancing age, a decision later approved by the government.

Wide use of the western calendar

Officially, Japan counts after the age of the acting emperor. This time is used for official documents such as driving licenses or in newspapers and other publications. In the coming weeks, billions of new forms will have to be printed. Computers also need to be updated. Japan’s cabinet chief Yoshihide Suga said the government will ensure that ministries communicate closely with each other. This will provide local governments with all the information they need to update their information systems.

A survey by the daily newspaper Mainichi revealed that a third of Japan uses the epoch names in everyday life. Many use both epochal and western calendar systems, and a quarter rely solely on Western numbers.

“Reiwa”, a symbol for upheaval in Japan

The “Heisei” period, which is drawing to a close, coincides fairly closely with Japan’s economic stagnation. Since Abe took office in 2012, the economy has been growing steadily though inconspicuously, and “Reiwa” gives hope for more upswing. For a short time, the stock market reacted positively to the new name. On the day of the announcement, some Japanese equities jumped. For example, that of bookseller Bunkyodo Group Holdings rose 29% in expectations that copies of the Manyoshu anthology would sell well. Trading as a whole is tuning in to the new era. Department stores are planning special sales and bakeries are decorating their pastries with “Reiwa” characters, according to the daily Nikkei Asia.

However, the Japanese government recently warned of a slow-down in the economy. The monthly economic report published in March stated that the world’s third largest economy was “recovering at a moderate pace, while exports and industrial production in some sectors have been weak lately”. This was mainly due to declining exports to China. Private consumption and investment remain solid and support the economy. Together, they account for about 70% of gross domestic product, according to a government official in a press conference.

Japan economy: Real GDP growth
Japan growth: real GDP

One challenge of the “Reiwa” era will continue to be the ageing population. Here, Abe is counting on more women in the workplace and a larger number of foreign workers.