Language | MORNING ENGLISH

Let's discuss the new Imperial era name, 'Reiwa'

This week’s featured article

TOMOHIRO OSAKI, STAFF WRITER

The Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday the name for Japan’s forthcoming new Imperial era, Reiwa, means “beautiful harmony” in English.

Within days of the announcement of the new gengō, as such eras are known, the ministry has presented an English translation for the new name.

The move is intended to dispel what the ministry considers erroneous reports overseas that the new era name has connotations of “command” or “order” — one of the most common meanings of the kanji for “rei” that forms the first half of Reiwa.

“Having seen talk overseas that the new gengō means ‘order’ or ‘command,’ we felt the need to let the world know that nobody (in the government) thinks like that,” Hiroatsu Satake, a foreign ministry official, told The Japan Times.

“If you look up that individual kanji in dictionaries, I believe a meaning like this does show up, but it has multiple other meanings too. We felt we should at least make it clear this particular one is not the intended meaning here,” Satake said.

The foreign ministry’s attempt to dissociate Reiwa from the authoritative nuance of command or law chiefly associated with rei, which is used in terms such as meirei (command) or hōrei (law), may have been clear enough from its issuance of the translation “beautiful harmony.”

But that rendition of Reiwa fails to reflect the original context in which the kanji rei was used in “Manyoshu” — the nation’s oldest existing anthology of poetry, from which the new gengō was drawn.

Reiwa was inspired by a portion of a passage written by prominent poet Otomo no Tabito, who used rei to render reigetsu, an “auspicious month,” as he detailed the soft manner of an early spring breeze.

While acknowledging that the ministry’s translation fails to capture the connotation of “auspicious,” Satake said the ministry placed a greater emphasis on accurately conveying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expectations for a new era than staying faithful to the original meaning of rei as was used by the poet in “Manyoshu.”

“We came up with ‘beautiful harmony’ based on a statement read out by the prime minister (soon after the gengō announcement), thinking about the kinds of expectations he had for these two kanji characters,” he said.

In an address to the nation on Monday, Abe said Reiwa suggests a “culture born and nurtured as people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.”

It was “impossible,” the foreign ministry official said, to translate Reiwa verbatim, it being an inventive combination of two kanji characters that has never before entered the Japanese lexicon and has left even native Japanese speakers scratching their heads as they try to parse and interpret it.

First published in The Japan Times on April 3.

Warm up

One-minute chat about new things.

Game

Collect words related to an era, e.g., generation, nostalgia, time.

New words

1) forthcoming: about to happen, e.g., “The details of the report are forthcoming.”

2) dispel: make a doubt, belief or feeling disappear, e.g., “The film tries to dispel the idea that alcohol is healthy.”

3) connotation: an idea or feeling that a word invokes apart from its primary meaning, e.g., “The judge’s decision carried the connotation that the law should be reviewed.”

Guess the headline

Japan assures world that Reiwa is about ‘b_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ harmony’ not ‘c_ _ _ _ _ _’

Questions

1) How did the government explain the meaning of the new era name?

2) What is the origin of the word?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What do you think of the word “Reiwa”?

2) What do you expect will happen in the Reiwa Era?

Reference

新しい時代の元号が決まり、いよいよ日本が次の時代を迎えようとしています。発表された”令和”という言葉については色々な感想があるようです。皆さんはどのようにお感じでしょうか。文字や音の響きから受けるイメージなど、朝の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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