Reader Mail

The slippery meaning of the new era name

The media coverage of Reiwa, the new era name, was extravagant. I was left with the sense that it was more than a mere announcement. Kuni Miyake, in his opinion piece in the April 9 edition (“What does Reiwa really mean to Japanese?“), reminds us that it was made on an auspicious day, April 1 — “April Fools’ Day.”

The announcement, by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, was timed strategically to give an edge to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party in upcoming mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

For an entire week preceding the elections, media coverage celebrated Japanese culture and tradition. Much was made of “Manyoshu” as an indigenous source of the compound word Reiwa. The name was not beholden to ancient China.

Much also was made of a centuries-long Imperial line, portending an equally long run into the future. As matters now stand, however, with a dearth of male heirs, an abrupt end is equally likely.

Miyake repeated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fanciful spin on the meaning of the new era name: “culture born and nurtured as people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.” In the next breath, he impishly said, “… for me, I don’t know what Reiwa exactly means. To me it just sounds so far so good.”

The connection between the new era name and Japanese words such as “meirei” (“an order,” “a command,” “an injunction,” “a directive”) resonates with LDP policies relating to curricular reforms that include moral education.

A common meaning of “wa” is “harmony.”

Can Reiwa be construed to mean “Thou shalt be harmonious”? In short: “Obey!”

Is it right that Reiwa was selected by a group of LDP politicians and not by the man who will live out the era as the next “symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”?

WARREN IWASA
SETAGAYA WARD, TOKYO

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.