The romanized name of the new Imperial era, to be introduced next May, is unlikely to start with the first letter of any of the last four eras, taking heed of a practice whereby era names are abbreviated with their starting letter, according to sources close to the matter.
This means the new era will not start with M, T, S, or H, which were used to stand for the Meiji, Taisho, Showa and Heisei eras, respectively.
The Heisei Era will end on April 30, when Emperor Akihito will abdicate, paving the way for Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the throne.
The first letter was an important factor when deciding the name of the current era, which began on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Showa, father of the current emperor, passed away. The government had put Shubun and Seika on the table in addition to Heisei, but those two names were rejected because they both began with S and so could be mistaken as referring to the Showa Era.
The government will take the same approach in deciding the name of the upcoming era, the sources said. Based on the phonetic hiragana characters, the name is likely to start from either of the following columns of the Japanese syllabary table: a, ka, na, ya, ra or wa, instead of the remaining sa, ta, ha or ma.
The era before Meiji (1868-1912) was known as Keio (1865-1868), but the government apparently believes it is possible to use an era name that starts with K because more than a century has passed since the start of the Meiji Era. “No one born in Keio is alive. There would be no confusion,” a government source said.
The government also aims to choose a name that is easy to read and has never been used before. It has been customary to refer to Chinese literary classics in the names, but Japanese classics may also be included. Heisei means “achieving peace” and is derived from two Chinese sources.
New era names have a large impact on Japanese society because they are widely used, for example, in calendars, newspapers and official documents, along with the Gregorian calendar.
The Imperial era name, or gengō, has a history of more than 1,300 years. There have been times when eras were changed upon celebratory occasions or disasters, but from Meiji onward the country has used an era name to denote the length of an emperor’s reign.
In a rare televised broadcast in 2016, Emperor Akihito, 84, hinted at his wish to step down in light of his age and weakening health. When he does, he will become the first living Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.