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Tabloids press pause as nation celebrates dawn of the Reiwa Era

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

Welcome one and all to Big in Japan, the Reiwa version. During the just-ended 10-day Golden Week holiday, only one general weekly magazine — Aera (May 13) — went to press, giving it the distinction of being the first publication out of the starting gates in the new era. Aera’s coverage of imperial events was fairly low key. A two-page article introduced newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito as a “scholar of history” who, unlike his other antecedents and younger brother, emphasized the study of the humanities as opposed to the natural sciences. The emperor has authored at least five scholarly papers on the subject of water as a means of transport, and expounded publicly on global water resources at several international forums.

Appealing to its mostly female readership, Aera also devoted two two-page articles to Empress Masako and her formative years as an “ordinary” citizen before marriage. A fourth article of three pages introduced the deluxe “Omeshi” train operated by JR East Japan for domestic travel by the imperial family. The first of such special trains date back to one imported from Britain, for use by Emperor Meiji, who rode it on the newly completed line from Shimbashi to Yokohama in 1872. By the mid-1870s the train had developed into a five-car configuration, with the emperor carried in his exclusive “Goryosha” festooned with ornate silk paneling.

The present configuration was built in 2007. On rare occasions the passenger cars are made available to the general public via a JR group travel service, which offers a one-day tour from Tokyo’s Ueno Station to Fukushima Prefecture to view cherry blossoms that costs ¥34,000.

In three more years, Japan’s two oldest weeklies will be observing their centennials. Shukan Asahi (May 17) and Sunday Mainichi (May 19), both produced special commemorative issues with cover photos of the new emperor and empress. The former also ran seven pages of glossy color photos of female members of the various branches of the imperial family. The latter publication ran color photos of rare bonbonnier (a small ornamental box or lidded jar containing confections), some bearing the imperial chrysanthemum seal, which have been distributed since the 19th century as special commemorative gifts.

Sunday Mainichi also reviewed the plethora of commemorative “Reiwa goods” put on sale, which included an updated Reiwa version of The Game of Life from toymaker Takaratomy Co. Visit www.taikonet.co.jp and you can shop online for everything from coffee mugs and cigarette lighters to towels and confections. The sale continues until June 28 or until stocks run out.

Shukan Post (May 17-24) polled 30 political commentators and other opinion leaders to name the possible “candidates for prime minister in the Reiwa Era who will wreck Japan.” In the lead with 14 votes is former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada. Critic Tsunehira Furuya argued that Inada’s reputation had been seriously tarnished by serving as one of the attorneys for plaintifs in a libel case that had been initiated by the families of two long-deceased Japanese officers, who, during the Nanking Massacre of 1937-38, had allegedly engaged in a “decapitation contest” of Chinese prisoners of war. Inada was followed, in descending order with number of votes in parentheses, by Yukio Edano and Toshimitsu Mogi (in second place, both with seven); Nobuteru Ishihara, Fumio Kishida and Yoshihide Suga (in fourth place, with six votes); Shigeru Ishiba, Goshi Hosono and Yuriko Koike (in seventh place with five votes); and Yuko Obuchi, Shinjiro Koizumi and Toru Hashimoto (in 10th place with four votes).

Taking a completely different tack, while keeping with its rapt interest in yakuza watching, Asahi Geino (May 16) offered a prediction of which rivals are likely to emerge as the most “trying enemy” of the nation’s largest underground syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, in the Reiwa Era. Former gang attorney Yukio Yamanouchi, crime writer Atsushi Mizoguchi and author Manabu Miyazaki present their respective views on whether the schism between gang factions will drag on, or if a reconciliation will occur, possibly under the control of Yoshinori Oda, the 53-year-old boss of the Ninkyo splinter group.

In seeming defiance of current events, Shukan Taishu (May 20) chose to jump back two eras to Showa, with a three-page spread introducing places that inspired the most popular manga and anime of the Showa Era (1926-89). These included Kyojin no Hoshi (the Tamagawa baseball ground in Tokyo’s Ota Ward); Tonari no Totoro (in Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture); Hikawa Shrine in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, inspiration of Sailor Moon; the spooky Kitaro no Mori (in the city of Chofu, Tokyo); and the Omiya Park Soccer Pitch in the city of Saitama, where Captain Tsubasa appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump.

Manga fans were also directed to the Machiko Hasegawa Art Museum in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, the Fujio Akatsuka museum in the city of Ome and a monument in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward that commemorates the site of the Tokiwa-so — the grungy apartment where Osamu Tezuka, Fujio Fujiko and several other famous cartoonists resided during the formative stages of their careers — and which is scheduled to be rebuilt by next spring.

Spa (May 14-21) must be considered remarkable for having completely disregarded the new era in feature articles and columns, although two comics managed to slip in references. The illustrated “declaration of arrogance” column from right-leaning cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi contains an impassioned plea for a revision to the Imperial Succession Law, which presently restricts the Chrysanthemum Throne to males — who are in dangerously short supply at the moment.

Finally, Shukan Gendai (May 25) offered a potpourri of “predictions from the pros” about changes that are expected to take place in Japan’s economy over the next three years. These include increasing medical costs; a continuing rise in elderly persons living alone; and more households with zero savings. Foreign workers will begin to contend with older Japanese for jobs and, in a double whammy, while it will eventually become impossible for people to survive solely on social pensions, the government will be forced to drastically cut back welfare payments.

What’s more, through expansion of the internet and dissemination of artificial intelligence, numerous occupations will decline or become defunct. These could include bank tellers, pharmacists, veterinarians, accountants, salesmen at insurance and securities firms, long-distance drivers, sales staff at department and appliance stores, watch and camera repairmen, and operators of construction equipment.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.