Reiwa is a word everybody is talking about in Japan at the moment. It is the name of our next era starting on May 1st. It was announced yesterday.
The term for the new era is made up of the two characters Rei and Wa. Rei can mean commands or order, as well as auspicious or good. Wa means harmony and is also used in the Japanese word for peace -hei-wa.
A lot of people around me don’t seem to be happy with the name judging from Facebook comments. If we interpret rei as commands or order, it sounds militaristic like harmony is ordered by the government. Considering the philosophy of our prime minister Abe, it isn’t surprising that he wanted to imply it in the name.
The fact that the name was taken from an old anthology of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu, instead of a Chinese one for the first time reinforces the idea that Abe wanted to express his nationalistic view in the term Reiwa.
Nevertheless, it was selected by many people including a group of experts, and Abe didn’t get to choose the name.
Abe and his group presented several names from both Japanese and Chinese anthologies to the experts and all of the experts agreed to pick the name from a Japanese anthology.
Apparently, Abe initially wanted to choose names only from Japanese anthologies, but he changed his plan after visiting the Imperial Palace. Nobody knows why but the most obvious assumption is that there was an objection from the Royal Family. Both the emperor and crown prince have rather liberal views compared to the present regime. The crown prince Naruhito, in particular, is known to have a liberal outlook with his interests in environmental issues. He studied at Oxford in his twenties.
I happened to be in England during the same period. I did go to Oxford to visit him, as a matter of fact. Then an old butler looking exactly like the main character in The Remains of the Day appeared and said with the poshest accent I had ever heard. “Do you have an appointment? “No, I just happened to be in the area and decided to drop by,” I said. “Oh, that is very kind of you. I am afraid Prince Hironomiya is away at the moment,” the butler declined in the kindest way he could possibly think of.
So, I know that he went to Oxford-haha. Shinzo Abe also studied abroad, he went to the University of Southern California for three semesters, but some people doubt whether he attended classes for three semesters.
Anyway, if we interpret rei as auspicious or good, Reiwa will suit the new emperor better, and since he will be the symbol of Japan during the era of Reiwa, not Abe, the name will automatically carry the ambiance of the emperor.