For Tokyo calendar maker, announcement of Reiwa era name was cue to get printers rolling


At the Tokyo offices of a major calendar maker on Monday, executives and employees crowded around a television broke into applause as Reiwa, the country’s next Imperial era name, was announced.

While the Gregorian calendar is in common use in Japan, the country’s Imperial era system is also widely used and the announcement was closely watched.

And for Kunio Kowaguchi, president of calendar and diary manufacturer Todan Co., the announcement was more than just symbolic; It was set to kick-start a frantic period of producing new products that bear the new era’s name.

About 30 members of the company had gathered at the TV at the firm’s Tokyo offices on Monday when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up the traditional calligraphy revealing the new name.

“I like it — it’s very good,” Kowaguchi said, pointing out that not many Japanese words begin with an “r” sound.

“Reiwa sounds modern but when you see the characters, it’s solemn,” he added.

The name combines the characters “rei” which can have meanings related to “order” but also “auspicious” and “beautiful,” and “wa” meaning “peace” or “harmony.”

As soon as the two-character name was announced, a Todan designer rushed to her computer to start preparing new layouts for products bearing the new gengō, or Imperial era name.

Another employee started consulting digital dictionaries to determine the order in which the strokes of the two characters should be written.

That information was then passed on to a calligrapher who began carefully painting the two characters as Kowaguchi and others looked on.

The wet ink was hurriedly dried, first with a traditional fan and then with a hair dryer, to allow the characters to be scanned as quickly as possible.

The new era name has arrived too late for Todan’s rollout of 2019 calendars but the company will now start work on 2020 products, as well as a special production of 800 desktop calendars that will run from this May until March next year.

For the year 2020, “we are talking about production plans for 50 kinds of calendars with gengō,” Kowaguchi said.

“Plus the special edition for the first year of the new era.”

Japan is the only country in the world still using Chinese-style Imperial calendars, and many people still remember historic events by the era year in which they occurred rather than the corresponding Gregorian date.

So it wasn’t just calendar makers firing up the printing presses Monday; Japanese newspapers quickly issued special editions that prompted stampedes in parts of central Tokyo.

At Todan’s factory in the town of Ami, Ibaraki Prefecture, 70 workers had their own excited gathering at the firm’s canteen to watch the era announcement.

“We have all been working together during the past two years (since the abdication was announced) and I was filled with a sense of relief when I heard the name being announced,” factory chief Junichi Ishii said.

“At the moment of the announcement, we all applauded,” he added.

There wasn’t much time to savor the moment though, with the factory springing straight into action to begin producing the special edition desktop calendars.

Workers manned machines in rooms for printing, cutting and assembling the new calendars that feature the name Reiwa prominently on their cover page.

The large machines responsible for printing the calendars roared, churning out large sheets printed with multiple months, each of which was cut out and then assembled by hand into a calendar.

The calendars will be shipped immediately, and Kowaguchi, the company president, said the initial plans for a run of 800 copies might prove insufficient. “We planned this as something that customers would keep as a commemorative product. We thought this wouldn’t be something that should be produced in a large volume,” he said.

But, he added, “We are receiving a flood of inquiries. Now I’m concerned that printing just 800 may leave some customers disappointed.”