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World


Japan: New emperor, new era "Reiwa"

Japan: New emperor, new era "Reiwa"

Tokyo, Apr 1 (UNI) If you had to pick a word to define your country's future, what would it be?

That was the question facing officials in Japan, where a change of emperor is about to usher in a new era.

Every emperor's reign, or "gengo", has a name, which is used alongside the Western calendar to count years - so the choice is taken pretty seriously.

Now as Japan has announced on Monday (1st of April) that the name of its new imperial era, set to begin on 1 May, will be "Reiwa" - signifying order and harmony - .let us have a look at the secretive selection process.

The country's current era, Heisei, will end in a month with Emperor Akihito's historic abdication.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the highly anticipated name by holding up a board with the characters handwritten on it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has addressed the nation to explain its meaning.

Each Japanese emperor's reign, or "gengo", is given a name which is then used alongside the Western calendar to mark the years.

What's the era name used for? There's a practical answer, and a philosophical one.

The gengo name appears on coins, newspapers, driving licences and official paperwork as a way of marking time. But it also represents the spirit of a period - just as saying "the 90s" or "the Victorian era" conjures up the culture and events of those times.

Japan's emperor has no political power, but remains a highly symbolic figure.

The current monarch is 85-year-old Emperor Akihito, and his era is known as "Heisei". It started in 1989, so 2019 is Heisei 31. The name means "achieving peace" and was chosen mindfully, reflecting a desire for good relations at home and overseas.

The era before that was "Showa" ("enlightened harmony"), presided over by Japan's wartime emperor, Hirohito. Spanning 64 years, it encompassed both World War Two and Japan's post-conflict boom.

The new name will embody Japanese ideals and aspirations, while also being easy to read and write. It's a lot to ask of two small characters.

How is it chosen? Japan's cabinet picked the name from a shortlist drawn up by scholars, after experts have weighed in on which is best.

Era names typically came from Chinese classical texts, and were usually only revealed when one emperor has died and another has taken the Chrysanthemum Throne. But, this time it is different as the name is very much Japanese 'Reiwa" meaning order and peace.

Emperor Akihito is abdicating in favour of his son, Crown Prince Naruhito - whose reign will start on 1 May.

Companies and government agencies whose computer systems use gengo have taken steps to "era-proof" themselves against Japan's personal version of the Millennium Bug, but it is hoped releasing the name a month early will smooth the transition.

According to news outlet Nikkei, the name-picking process has been rehearsed at least once a year for over 30 years, so officials are always primed for "The Day".

As the name has been chosen, the cabinet now will adopt an ordinance on it, and the current emperor will sign it off.

UNi XC-SNU 1411

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