Regarding the Big in Japan column titled “New era offers an opportunity to reassess the future” in the April edition, “What’s in a name?” your writer asks, quoting Shakespeare. It seems to me that the Japanese place great importance on choosing names, along with the proper kanji to accompany them. Recalling, as I do, all the pomp and ceremony and general brouhaha that accompanied the change from Showa to Heisei, it seems that the transformation from Heisei to Reiwa is already producing the same level of excitement.
Even in these times of rapid change, most countries strive to maintain their old traditions, and Japan, to its great credit, is among the world’s leaders in protecting and preserving its splendid heritage. However, I personally believe that there are times when a stubborn adherence to tradition can actually be an impediment to progress.
Speaking from the personal experience of living in Japan since 1975, if I tell a Japanese person in Japanese that “I arrived here in Showa 50,” they often (especially younger people) have a puzzled expression on their face, until I clarify: “You know, 1975.” This instantly clears things up!
I understand the great affection held for the Imperial family, and the importance for the Japanese of marking the accession of a new emperor and empress to the Imperial throne, but with all due respect, now that the Heisei Era is coming to an end, and we are to embark on the new Reiwa Era, perhaps it would be a good chance for Japan, as it gradually becomes more internationalized, to reverse the order, putting the Gregorian calendar year first (e.g., 2019) and the Japanese era name after it (or in parentheses).
We know that the Japanese pride themselves on being “unique,” and in many quarters there would certainly be resistance to such a change, but wouldn’t this just make things easier for everybody to understand? I also realize, of course, that many people (even non-Christian foreigners) will ask, “Why should Japan adopt a foreign year numbering system that started with the traditional date of the birth of Christ?” but it is already the reality in Japan, and all Japanese are used to seeing it, and often using it, on a daily basis.
Leaving aside the question of whether the name Reiwa is really well-chosen or not, in these very troubled times that we are living through, I’m afraid the wish for an “orderly peace” that the name seems to suggest is fated to be merely a chimera. But, as your writer optimistically concludes, “May the new era bring fresh air and new light.” Let’s hope and pray so.
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.