National

New Reiwa era name draws positive public responses across Japan

by Ryusei Takahashi, Masumi Koizumi and Eric Johnston

Staff Writers

The name of the nation’s next Imperial era, announced on Monday, drew largely positive responses from people on the streets through the day.

The Reiwa Era, which will begin on May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne, is written with two kanji characters. The first character, “rei,” means “good fortune” while the second, “wa,” means peace or harmony.

Many members of the public said they thought the name was simple and easy to read and write. A few pointed to the first character, which also can be translated to “command” or “order” in certain contexts, saying that it bears a negative connotation.

Minutes before the announcement on Monday, people gathering in front of the Inui gates of the Imperial Palace were restlessly checking their smartphones as they waited for a news update. Cheers erupted when it finally came.

Hisako Tamura, a 70-year-old who was visiting Tokyo from Kobe, praised the name, saying that it “has a ring to it and is easy to write.”

“It’s a great choice,” she added.

With one month to go until the end of the Heisei Era, Tamura said her overall impression of the Heisei Era was “good, except for the fact that the number of heinous crimes, including ones involving parents and their children, is increasing.”

Nonetheless, she said, “there was not a war in Japan in Heisei,” adding that working environments for women have improved in terms of advancement in their workplace.

Tamura was worried, however, that a graying population and a declining birthrate would top the country’s agenda in the new era. She feared that the inequality between seniors, who have families and financial means, and those who do not will “widen significantly.”

“When those people get older and become sick, I wonder what is going to happen,” she said.

Atsuhiro Ono, a 21-year-old university student from Hyogo Prefecture, echoed those observations. Ono, who learned of the new era name by watching a live stream via Twitter on his smartphone, said the aging population and low birthrate are among many social issues Japan needs to address.

“We as citizens should work together to resolve the issue with a positive mindset,” Ono said, adding that the new era name was “easy to pronounce, and its kanji characters are well-balanced and beautiful.”

In Osaka, a large crowd gathered Monday morning in the city’s Dotonbori canal district to watch the announcement on a large television screen. There were audible gasps of surprise as well as pleased expressions when the new name was announced.

“It was unexpected but I’m especially happy that they used ‘wa’ in the name, which is reminiscent of Showa as in the Showa Era. Reiwa is easy to understand and resonates with a broad range of Japanese people,” said Masayuki Nakanishi, 73, a shopkeeper in Osaka.

Miho Maruyama, 22, an English teacher in Osaka, said she hoped the new era name would create expectations of positive changes in Japan, especially abroad.

“There are international events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2025 Osaka World Expo that will take place in the Reiwa Era,” she said.

Osaka-area university students Ami Dogan and Fuka Ijima, both 19 years old, said they were quite surprised at the choice.

“I’d seen on social media that other words were popular so I thought it might be one of them. I like the inclusion of ‘wa,’ as it reminds me of heiwa (peace). But I don’t know about ‘rei,’ ” said Dogan.

“It sounds a bit stiff,” said Ijima.

The name was revealed on Monday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

The Heisei Era, which began in Jan. 8, 1989, will end the moment the next Emperor ascends the throne on May 1. “Heisei” was comprised of two characters that, when translated, meant “achieving peace.” The country enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of peace over the past three decades, interrupted only by natural crises like the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, both in 1995, and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

Yukari Okada, who was carrying her toddler in front of huge video screens in the Shinjuku Ward of Tokyo as she waited for the new era name to be announced, was born in the first year of the Heisei Era. She said she was currently on maternity leave but that her child had not been accepted into any preschools. She hopes that, among other things, the chronic lack of preschools in Japan will be addressed in the new era.

“There were many natural disasters during the Heisei Era,” Okada said. “I hope that in the next era people will suffer less and enjoy life more.”

Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.