令和時代
April 1, 2019 6:50 AM   Subscribe

The Japanese government announces the name of the incoming imperial era. The period of the reign of the incoming Emperor Naruhito, which begins on 1 May, will be known as the Reiwa period, meaning “decree of peace” or “orderly command of peace”. It follows the Heisei era, which began in 1989, with the ascent of Emperor Akihito. The choice of the name Reiwa is not without controversy; it is the first era name taking its characters from Japanese, rather than Chinese, classical literature. Meanwhile, some have pointed to the characters, and the fact that the second one appears in “Yamato”, an archaic name for Japan with militaristic connotations, as having authoritarian overtones.
posted by acb (29 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
㋿ is the reserved Unicode code point for the combined character for the new era. There's been a lot of work behind the scenes in Unicode and elsewhere to prepare for the changeover- I'm curious to see how long it takes to propagate everywhere.
posted by zamboni at 7:12 AM on April 1 [7 favorites]


Being born or having a wedding on 1 May must be a huge thing, no?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:16 AM on April 1


I was hoping for Wahei
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:16 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Unicode 12.1 drops May 7:
Unicode 12.1 adds exactly one character, for a total of 137,929 characters.

The new character added to Version 12.1 is:

U+32FF SQUARE ERA NAME XXXXXX
Version 12.1 adds that single character to enable software to be rapidly updated to support the new Japanese era name in calendrical systems and date formatting.
This has to be the smallest ever Unicode release.
posted by zamboni at 7:17 AM on April 1 [8 favorites]


KyodoNews has a good description of why this is so important. I was in Japan during the Showwa-Heisei transition, and it's fascinating how much modern effort goes into each change of era.
posted by blob at 7:17 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


I'm curious how often this comes up in everyday life (on preview, blob's link does a nice job answering this).

An interesting thing I learned back when I worked with Japanese patents was that those from before the year 2000 were numbered based on the imperial year.
posted by exogenous at 7:19 AM on April 1


I am very much not a fan of the name. The kanji 令, outside of a seventh century poem where it seems to have meant auspicious, is also part of the word 命令, or order/command. As mentioned in a discussion elsewhere, 令和 could easily be construed as Harmony through Obedience, which, well, yeah, that is in perfect fitting with Abe and the Nihon Kai push for return to a militaristic Japan centered around the emporer.

It’s literally just a name, for an archaic system that even in Japan is less widely used than before. But it has a nasty feel to it, and is another little grain of uneasiness about the future here.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:24 AM on April 1 [30 favorites]


Wonder if my involvement wrt Japan will be limited to the Heisei era . . . I started taking Japanese in Heisei 1, moved to Tokyo in Heisei 4, but left in Heisei 12 and have only been back once since then.

Reiwa Japan will be a lot different from the Showa Japan I was first exposed to . . .

Sony, Casio, Sharp, Toshiba, Panasonic, JVC, Pioneer . . . consumer electronics powerhouses 30 years ago, now dead or niche players now.

Namco, Sega, Taito, Capcom . . . corpses.

Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Isuzu, Honda . . . all made fun little sports cars, now all we have is the BRZ and Miata . . .

Japan’s Gross National Cool output in anime etc has never been higher, but I’m more interested in Counterpart/Utopia-style stories now.

But here’s to Heisei Japan, while battered and beaten in some areas, by the measure of NIIPit’s the richest nation-state on the planet, with $3T socked away in net overseas capital ownership.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:36 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


will be known as the Reiwa period, meaning “decree of peace” or “orderly command of peace”.

It's been really embarrassing to see "foreigners in Japan" Twitter quickly and crudely translate the era name. "Reiwa" does not mean "decree of peace" etc.

The choice of the name Reiwa is not without controversy; it is the first era name taking its characters from Japanese, rather than Chinese, classical literature.

Most of the Japanese people I follow on Twitter (journalists and progressives) are more fascinated by the connection to the Man'yoshu.

Meanwhile, some have pointed to the characters, and the fact that the second one appears in “Yamato”, an archaic name for Japan with militaristic connotations, as having authoritarian overtones.

和 is also pretty common in names: Kazuo, Kazuko, Hirokazu, Kazue etc etc. And what about Kuroneko Yamato?

There's the idea that 令 translates into "majesty" or "majestic".

A translator friend of mine has taken a stab at translating the new name into English, but really (and this is a concept that may be hard to "translate" into a Western perspective) the best thing to do is to sit back and think about what the new era name actually means. Take some time. Contemplate for a few days. Let it come to you in the shower or something.

Here's what someone on the Premodern Japanese Studies listserve says:

"Given my research interests in legal history, I, too, almost instinctively associate the character 「令」(rei/ryō) with giving orders and the like.

Still, in a passing conversation I just had with a colleague in the hallway just a few minutes ago, he reminded me of the term 令嬢 (reijō), which, as someone who also teaches courses on Japanese women’s history, I am ashamed I did not think of sooner.

To be sure, it takes us well out of the time of the Manyōshū and sends us centuries later into Meiji/Taishō references to the daughters of well-to-do families, but the larger point is that it has a meaning of “noble,” which is less connected to the idea of “enforced” and more along the lines of “majestic” that others have started to suggest here on-list."

posted by JamesBay at 7:43 AM on April 1 [25 favorites]


Really interesting comment Ghidorah, thanks for that.

Is there thought to be any scope in the upcoming ceremonies (the government ones rather than the Household Agency ones, am thinking) for further (subtle) expression of this more militaristic direction? Anything to look out for?
posted by runincircles at 7:46 AM on April 1


Japan historian Nick Kapur has a Twitter thread I found very interesting on the name of the era, emphasizing the polysemy of characters and how both the meaning of "majestic/splendid" and the meaning of "order/command" are in play.
posted by Jeanne at 7:49 AM on April 1 [10 favorites]


Man I'm really conflicted, because—

This is the first era name change since I became, like, actually aware of Japan as a culture (which was not terribly long after the beginning of Heisei, actually.) And as such, it's exciting.

I work with Japanese daily, and its cultural concerns and aesthetics are a huge part of my personal and professional life. From that superficial but not uninformed perspective, I love the simple phonetics of Reiwa. To my non-native but Japanese-speaking and -reading ears, it's a very pretty, evocative, stately word, rhyming with "heiwa" (peace) and bringing to mind "kirei" (beautiful/clean) and "reigi" (courtesy, etiquette). (n.b., the "rei" in both of those words are different characters from the "rei" in "Reiwa", so the associations are purely phonetic, and surely informed by my non-native speaker-hood).

The literature nerd in me thinks it's cool that it's derived from the Manyoshu.

But there's no getting around the unpleasant associations and possible motivation behind the choice, so in conclusion, REIWA is a land of contrasts.

Finally my favorite tweet on the subject of new era names so far comes from Metafilter's Own no-sword.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:59 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


I was pretty unsettled when I learned that Showa Day had been added back to Golden Week. That the new era name seems to have been chosen to resonate with "Showa" doesn't do much to ease my concerns.

But then again, I suspect that any era name that had been unveiled in the current climate of nationalism would have caused similar concern.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:18 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


The reactions in my office, and my messaging apps were
1. “Rei” is hard to say.
2. Feels like they’re ordering obedience.
3. Sourced from Man’yōshū? That’s neat.
4. But really, did they HAVE to use that kanji?
posted by AxelT at 8:36 AM on April 1 [3 favorites]


Here's my favorite Japanese calligrapher writing out 令和:
【新元号】「令和」(れいわ)を書いてみた

And a bit from the classical text, (IIRC it's a line from the introduction and not from the poetry itself):
新元号「令和(れいわ)」の出典となった万葉集の梅花の歌を書いてみた

I'm weirded out about how different 令 can look in different fonts / styles.

Foci for Analysis, yes it's a thing to get married and kiss the bride as it were at 12:00:01 a.m. on May 1.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:52 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


> Japan historian Nick Kapur has a Twitter thread I found very interesting on the name of the era.

Thanks for that link. "Another way of saying all this is that dog whistles are always polysemous. That's what makes them dog whistles."

Since Reiwa is the official title of an institutional epoch, it seems to be a little like, yet more significant than, replacing "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency with "MAGA".
posted by at by at 9:18 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


NHK's translation of the source goes:
"In early spring, the air is fresh and the wind is calm. The plum flowers are blooming like a beautiful woman applying white powder in front of the mirror. And the fragrance of flowers is like that of robes scented with incense."
With 令(れい)(rei) coming from the 'early spring'.

嘉辰令月 [かしんれいげつ] /(n) (yoji) auspicious date/EntL2822230/
令月 [れいげつ] 如月 /(n) (1) (arch) auspicious month/(2) (See 如月) second lunar month/EntL2596650/

如月:

小草生月 [おぐさおいづき] /(n) (See 如月) second lunar month/EntL2596660/
雪消え月;雪消月(io) [ゆきぎえづき] /(n) (See 如月) second lunar month/EntL2596640/
仲春;中春 [ちゅうしゅん] /(n) (1) (obs) (See 如月) second month of the lunar calendar/(2) (中春 only) (obsc) 15th day of the second month of the lunar calendar (around mid-spring)/EntL1425940X/
如月;衣更着;更衣 [きさらぎ;じょげつ(如月);きぬさらぎ(衣更着)] /(n) (obs) second month of the lunar calendar/EntL1629910X/
梅見月 [うめみづき] /(n) (See 如月) second lunar month/EntL2596630/

And 和(わ)(wa) coming from the 'calm'.

和 [なぎ] /(n) calm (at sea)/lull/
和 [のど] /(adj-nari) (arch) tranquil/calm/quiet/peaceful/
和 [やわ] /(adj-na,n) (uk) soft/fragile/weak/poorly built/insubstantial/
和 [わ] /(n) (1) sum/(2) harmony/peace/(n,n-pref,adj-no) (3) Japan/Japanese-style/(P)/

So you could take 令和 as 'an auspicious continuation into the second month of the spring of calm and harmony'.

The big winners are the stamp makers who make the stamps that cross out 平成 and put 令和 above it so they can still use all those old forms...
posted by zengargoyle at 11:31 AM on April 1 [5 favorites]


Aside from what's already been said, I feel that going from Chinese poetry as before to the Man'yoshu is another point driving towards a more nationalistic feeling. I'm somewhat wary about the intentions of the government.
posted by sukeban at 12:04 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Probably.

However, the power structure in Japan from the Meiji Restoration until the defeat in World War II regarded Japan as the steward and heir to classical Continental culture following the "decline" and "decadence" of China in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The decision to rename Edo as Tokyo, the Eastern Capital, in contrast to Peking (北京) and Nanjing (南京) is an example of this.

So, for the past 160 years or so, the adoption or appropriation of Chinese classical texts has always been a form of chauvinism and cultural superiority.

Anyway, a lot of people seem to be alarmed by the new era name, but there has been little if any comment on Japan's decision to buy its first-ever standoff missile.

Way way way bigger news, with way more implications for regional defense and security. A new era indeed.
posted by JamesBay at 12:16 PM on April 1 [5 favorites]


Completely leaving aside the meaning, I'm rather disappointed in the characters chosen because to me they're just not very aesthetically pleasing. Neither was Heisei really. You've got to go back to Showa to get a fairly good looking bit of calligraphy going. Taisho wasn't all that attractively written either, though I think Meiji had some good looking characters in the name.

It's always been hit and miss. Obviously the meaning is more carefully considered, but I think it's a shame they didn't go with more attractive characters.
posted by sotonohito at 1:41 PM on April 1


Japan historian Nick Kapur has a Twitter thread I found very interesting on the name of the era, emphasizing the polysemy of characters and how both the meaning of "majestic/splendid" and the meaning of "order/command" are in play.

His explanation is the best I've read.
posted by zardoz at 2:14 PM on April 1


It's always been hit and miss. Obviously the meaning is more carefully considered, but I think it's a shame they didn't go with more attractive characters.

I read somewhere that they choose simple, low stroke count kanji as much as possible, because people are gonna be writing it for the next generation or so. And you don't want to get stuck at the grocery store while the ojichan ahead of you takes five minutes to write a 15-stroke kanji on his checks. (Is joke; Japan doesn't have checks. But you get my point).
posted by zardoz at 2:19 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


Presumably the relative simplicity of the characters were chosen in part so anyone would be able to write them with mastery.

Students learn 令 in Grade 4. It is one of the 1,006 kanji students learn by the end of Grade 6 when they complete elementary school.

Elementary school students learn in Grade 3.
posted by JamesBay at 3:45 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


The new era is cool and all but how about letting the Princess be Empress?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:05 PM on April 1 [10 favorites]


Speaking of simplicity and grade levels, the Manyoshu is, uh, not at all readable without many years of study. It's as old as Beowulf. It's a little more popular than that, closer to Shakespeare, but still not super prominent, and at best people read modern translations with annotations.

Meanwhile, 和 is used in ordinary everyday words like 和英辞書 - Japanese-English dictionary - 和食, 和服, Japanese food, clothing; and also 和解, peace talks, 和声, musical harmony, etc.

and 令 is used for some archaic honorifics, but I actually did not know about that meaning even one tiny bit before today, which tells you how common it is; and 令 is used in everyday words like "law" and "warrant" which are too boring for me to list, see a jisho

Those meanings are way more prominent. Those are the meanings that will be most clear to children, for example.

Nick Kapur's thread is very thorough in going through the different meanings, but I would emphasize that they're not on the same level. The authoritarian "order and harmony" meaning is prominent like the title on a book cover, that everyone sees. The Manyoshu derivation is like the acknowledgments page, for people who get curious.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 5:28 PM on April 1 [6 favorites]


The runner ups have been revealed. Honestly, if reiwa looks kind of reactionary I don't want to think about 万和/ Banwa (ten thousand as in "banzai" + wa/ Yamato).
posted by sukeban at 10:34 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


Govt.: 'Reiwa' means 'beautiful harmony' - News - NHK WORLD - English
... the word carries the connotation that culture is born and nurtured when people bring their hearts together in a beautiful manner.
... it reflects the wish to ensure that Japan will be a country where all its people can make their own flowers bloom.
I think the second quote is a reference to The song 花は咲く (Hana wa Saku) - Flowers Will Bloom which was (and still is) a sort of "recovery anthem" born out of the aftermath of the 3/11 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:42 AM on April 3






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