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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.

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