National / Media | Japan Pulse

Clamor grows for Heisei Era memories online as abdication approaches

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

A lot of people online appear to be feeling anxious ahead of the Emperor’s abdication. Some simply don’t like change, and this upcoming transition represents the biggest change their lives have ever known.

So when the Yomiuri Shimbun published an article online that included predictions on what the new era would be called, people on social media and message boards such as 2chan responded en masse. According to a poll conducted by Sony Life Insurance, most respondents chose “heiwa” (“peace”), with “wahei” (which also means “peace”) finishing second.

The sample size of the survey was small but it was enough for many to lampoon the news online, even noting that “heiwa” is also the name of a company famous for producing pachinko machines.

Beyond creating an easy opportunity to crack jokes online, the topic highlights some of the tension surrounding the transition. Accordingly, netizens are increasingly looking back at what’s transpired over the past 30 years, with some of the bigger discussions online to date this year focusing on wistfulness or even identifying Heisei’s goofier aspects .

By and large, the internet has always worked as a historical database of sorts and in Japan it’s no different, offering everything from commercial compilations to quizzes on one’s knowledge of the cartoon “Hamtaro.”

However, the collective sense of nostalgia has felt more pronounced in recent times, starting with J-pop superstar Namie Amuro’s retirement from show business and continuing on to touch on all corners of pop culture.

This would partially explain the reaction to Twitter user @makotoppo104’s post on “skeleton goods” from the 1990s such as a turquoise Nintendo 64 you can see into or the iMac G3. This relatively simple template — ”remember this thing?” — received over 67,000 “likes” and more than 38,000 retweets.

It also inspired others to share memories and photos of transparent hardware, from Game Boys to Tamagotchi. And, like all trends, it looks set to come back as companies realize people might actually be willing to buy a video game console that looks unfinished again.

Moreover, the nostalgia hasn’t stopped at video game consoles and forgotten Apple products. Morning show “Zip!” did a feature on “retro toys” such as Furby, the once-buzzed-about toy that inspired people online to recall their own experiences with the unnerving mechanical pets. Did you know that before MP3 players and streaming services existed, you actually had to put all your favorite songs on some sort of physical device? Netizens do. Even the news last December that services for pagers would end in September inspired a bit of nostalgia for technology I’m not sure anyone has thought much about in the past decade.

The nostalgia reached a peak in mid-January when NHK aired a show called “Heisei Net History.” It’s exactly as the title implies — the show looked at the history of the internet in the mid-’90s and beyond, moving between segments looking at the evolution of cellphones to how video site Nico Nico set the pace for most online culture (fittingly, all of the looks toward the future took on more paranoid tones, from fake news to deep fakes). The program featured a hashtag, which prompted viewers to comment along with the show and share their own memories (and memes) of the early web that was being covered by the national broadcaster.

The nostalgia has now reached its ultimate form — advertising copy. A “creative school” geared toward millenial women called She posted an ad on Instagram riffing on a bunch of Heisei staples, from “Sailor Moon” to Tamagotchi. It reached Twitter and hit users in the feels. It wasn’t the first agency to use the era for promotion and it certainly won’t be the last, but the reaction to it is a good example of just how effective it can be at the moment.

Everyone wants to look back on times they perceived to be simpler (even if they weren’t) and most of Japan’s recent social media lookbacks are pretty harmless, especially compared to conservatives in the United States’ current “back-in-the-day” mind-set that conceals layers of racism and sexism. It’s also completely understandable given the upcoming transition. So spend a little more time getting sappy about “Dance Dance Revolution” or your Heisei signifier of choice — the next generation will have plenty of time to build their own nostalgia in the future.