BEIJING – Some citizens in Beijing on Monday evaluated Japan’s new era name, Reiwa, as “strange” and expressed disappointment, saying it doesn’t make sense in their language and was not derived from Chinese classics.
On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, many young people had tried to guess the name of Japan’s new era, traditionally composed of two Chinese characters, believing that it would derive from Chinese classics as in the past.
Contrary to their expectations, however, the 248th era name, the first of which was created in 645, was derived from the Japanese classic “Manyoshu,” a collection of poetry from the late seventh to eighth centuries.
The meaning of “rei” — pronounced as “ling” in Chinese — is understood to be “order” in China. The character of “wa” with the sound of “he” in Chinese, meanwhile, signifies “and” and “peace.”
The new era name reflects a wish that people will join their hearts to develop Japan’s culture, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference following the announcement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Before hearing Abe’s explanation, “I was not able to understand what the new era name means,” a 36-year-old Chinese woman said. “It looks cool and it is easy to write, but sounds a little strange for Chinese people.”
A 24-year-old Chinese man said: “Does the name mean ‘someone orders peace’? It is difficult to understand.”
Some observers in China said the choice is indicative of what they see as the nationalist leanings of Abe’s conservative government.
“I felt disappointed that Japan did not use Chinese classics to decide the new era name,” another man in Beijing said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that it is a “matter of internal affairs of Japan.”
“Recently, China-Japan relations have maintained a good momentum of improvement and development. We will continue to promote healthy and stable development of bilateral ties to benefit the two countries,” Geng said.
In modern Japan, era names are used for the length of an emperor’s reign. The name is a matter of huge public interest, as it will be widely used in calendars, newspapers, official documents and certificates, including driver’s licenses.
Japan is the only country in the world that currently operates under the era name system, which has its roots in China, although it also commonly uses the Gregorian calendar.
The Reiwa Era will begin May 1, when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the throne that day and succeeds his father, Emperor Akihito.