When I was growing up, I used to watch a T.V. serial every Friday night from 8.30-9.00 pm. Once it was over, I had to wait for a week for the next episode (no Netflix binge-watching then). So when it finally got over, after six years, I honestly thought it was the end of an era. Something momentous had ended and now a new time, with a new serial, had begun.
But what is an era and why is Japan suddenly talking about a new one? An era, according to one Oxford dictionary definition means, ‘a long and distinct period of history.’ All over the world, history has been divided into these periods based on different events. In non-geological terms, the words ‘age’ and ‘era’ are used interchangeably though an age is usually a much longer time period. The most common use of the word is when we write dates – BCE is Before Common Era and CE is Common Era. There have been other eras based on the rule of monarchs, e.g. the Elizabethan Era or the Napoleonic Era. Sometimes eras can overlap, like the Napoleonic era in France and the Edo era in Japan which were both during the late 1700s but are referred to differently in each country. Eras can also be about other events such as the Information Era or the post 9/11 era. What they all have in common is that it is the end of one way of life or thinking and the beginning of a new one.
Back to Japan: The Japanese government said that a new era would begin on 1 May 2019 when Emperor Akihito abdicates (renounces, or steps down from) the throne due to ill health (the first time an abdication has occurred in 200 years) and the current crown prince, Naruhito will take over the throne. In Japan, the end of the reign of an emperor marks the end of an era. Each era is given a name – Akihito’s was the Heisei era which roughly translates to mean ‘achieving peace’. The revelation of the new name was a much-anticipated event, and it was announced with great ceremony at a news conference in Tokyo.
The name of the Naruhito’s rule will be Reiwa, a term that means ‘peace and order’ or ‘auspicious harmony’. In a break with tradition, the government decided on a name from the oldest collection of Japanese poems rather than from Chinese literature. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained why they chose the name saying, “Like the plum flowers that beautifully bloom, heralding the arrival of spring after a severe winter, each one of the Japanese people can bloom their own flowers with a hope for tomorrow.” A lovely thought to begin a new era.
The name will now become synonymous with Naruhito’s reign and will be used to mark the date on all official documents.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.