The New Era of Reiwa

 

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On May 1st 2019, Japan welcomed the new imperial era – Reiwa.

AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko

AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko

Prince Crown Naruhito ascended the throne in this rare historic moment, after his father Emperor Akihito became the first monarch to abdicate in 200 years.

The general atmosphere was festive as family, friends and loved ones gathered in unity to commemorate the new era – but it was not without its melancholy, as the generations born in the Heisei era voiced their affection and sadness for its passing.

The new imperial era, named Reiwa “令和” (beauty harmony) derives from a poem in the ancient collection of classical Japanese poetry titled Manyoshu (translated as “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”). The poem describes a Japanese ume plum flower in full bloom in early spring after resiliently surviving a harsh winter.


It was in new spring, in a fair (“令”) month,
When the air was clear and the wind a gentle (“和”) breeze.
Plum flowers blossomed a beauty’s charming white
And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.

AP Photo / Dusan Vranic

AP Photo / Dusan Vranic

The Heisei era was characterised by relative peace, but it was also a time of significant instability – beginning with the decade-long financial crisis in the 1990’s and a succession of natural disasters that struck the nation. The imperial family has remained a symbol of conscience and unity of the Japanese people in times of adversity, and Emperor Akihito will be remembered for his connection with the common people.

As Emperor Akihito’s 30-year reign ended on April 31st, he gave a heartfelt message to the Japanese nation and wished for the Reiwa era to be “…a stable and fruitful one, and I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.” And with that, Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito ascended the throne and ushered in a hopeful new era of ‘beautiful harmony’.