Like many others, I awaited with excitement the unveiling of Japan’s new era name on April 1. Sadly, upon learning the new name (Reiwa), I was shocked and deeply disappointed. While kanji can have diverse meanings, to me the first character is strongly associated with the meaning “rule; command,” which seems too intimidating to belong in an era name. In fact, that character hasn’t been used once in any of the 247 preceding era names.
Looking into the cited source, I was surprised yet again. The characters were reported to come from “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest surviving poetry collection. While I was happy to see that Japan was, apparently for the first time, using one of its own ancient documents to compose an era name, upon researching the specific passage cited as the source, I discovered that, curiously, it is not a poem. Rather, it is the prefatory text that precedes a collection of 32 poems composed during a plum-blossom viewing banquet. This text describes the site of the banquet, and the conditions under which the banquet guests composed their poems.
A poetry collection was used as the source, but not any of the thousands of poems within it?
Furthermore, the two characters chosen from that passage do not have the same degree of balance and relationship with each other as did, say, those chosen to form the previous era name: Heisei.
These factors make this name choice highly suspect. Taken together, they give the impression that the desired era name was chosen first, and then a passage was found to provide a justification for the choice. Furthermore, as the second character is sometimes used to represent “Japan,” this name allows for an alternate, menacing interpretation: “Rule Japan.”
For recent eras, the new name was not announced until the time of enthronement of a new emperor. As that event is still a few weeks away, it is certainly not too late to change the name. I strongly urge the Japanese people to understand how this choice was made, and to question its validity. There is still time to replace this flawed era name before it takes effect.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.