The government asked the literary scholar who proposed “Reiwa” as the current era name to come up with a candidate from the “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest known poetry anthology, just nine days before the name was to be announced, according to sources.
The sources also said it was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who insisted that the new era name come from Japanese literature and from the “Manyoshu” in particular.
The expert, Susumu Nakanishi, a former president and professor of Japanese classics at Osaka Women’s University, came up with Reiwa two days after receiving the government’s request, the sources said Saturday.
In early March, Abe was shown a list of a dozen proposals for the era name that had been narrowed down by government officials. But none of the proposals clicked with him, according to a senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Abe looked at other candidates that had been screened and the name “Tensho” got his attention. The term, which derives from a poem by Yamanoue no Okura included in the “Manyoshu,” had been suggested by Nakanishi.
However, Tensho was unlikely to be picked because it was written using manyōgana, an ancient writing system using Chinese characters to phonetically represent the Japanese language.
The two characters in the name roughly mean “sky” and “flying.”
Nevertheless, Abe fixated on Tensho despite reluctance by officials to approve the term, especially because it has been used for the name of a funeral company.
The official in charge of the name search called Nakanishi on March 23, asking him to come up with a name from “Manyoshu” that does not use manyōgana.
Two days later, Nakanishi produced a new list of candidates, one of which was Reiwa.
In a meeting March 27 attended by key government officials, including Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, it was agreed that Reiwa was the best pick.
By that time, the candidate list had been pared to five names and the government was deeply concerned about keeping the list of prospective names secret. When NTV reported March 28 that five candidates had made it to the final stage, officials turned to subterfuge and included the name “Banpo,” proposed by Shigehiko Uno, an honorary professor of Chinese philosophy at Chuo University, to expand the list to six.