Photo/IllutrationChief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga holds up a sign on April 1 that reads "Reiwa," the name of the new era in Japan starting on May 1. (Shinichi Iizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Reiwa, the name of the new era starting May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne, originates from a poem in “Manyoshu,” Japan’s oldest known poetry anthology.

This is the first confirmed adoption of an era name that has its source in the Japanese classics.

The announcement of Reiwa came from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga around 11:40 a.m. on April 1.

“Manyoshu” (The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) was compiled during the Nara Period (710-784). The collection contains about 4,500 poems composed over 350 years.

All prior era names whose origins have been confirmed came from passages used in Chinese classics, such as the “Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism.”

But calls were growing among supporters of the Abe administration, who are predominantly conservative, for a new era name originating in the Japanese classics.

Noting such calls, the government enlisted scholars on Japanese classics to participate in proposals for the new era name, as well as experts on Chinese classics.

The “Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves” is a “Japanese classic representing our country’s rich culture and long tradition,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a news conference after the announcement of the new era name.

The poems in the collection were composed by people from all walks of life, from celebrated poets, emperors, to coast guards, to nameless farmers.

Abe said Reiwa was picked as words to represent wishes for a Japan where each individual will achieve their aspirations.

“Each Japanese can have their own flowers bloom with their hopes for tomorrow like the blossoms of a Japanese apricot, which bloom in full glory after enduring severe winter cold and become the harbinger of the arrival of spring,” Abe said.

Reiwa marks the 248th era name after Taika, which began in 645.

It is also the first time Japan has changed an era name in accordance with the abdication of an emperor since the country established a constitutional government in the late 19th century.

Procedures to select the new era name began on April 1 at around 9 a.m.

Suga selected several from a pool of candidate names based on the opinion of Yusuke Yokobatake, director-general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau.

Suga then presented six names to a gathering of nine prominent figures from various fields, including Nobel Prize-winning stem cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka, which got under way at around 9:30 a.m.

Half of the names originated in the Japanese classics and another half in Chinese classics, according to a source.

The chief Cabinet secretary explained each proposed name’s source and meaning to the participants of the gathering and listened to what each had to say.

The government plans to preserve records on the new era names presented to the gathering, including the names of individuals who devised the names, but such details are not expected to be disclosed for the time being.

After the meeting ended, Suga moved on to hear opinions of the speaker and vice speaker of the Lower House, as well as the president and vice president of the Upper House from 10:20 a.m. at the official residence of the speaker of the Lower House.

The official announcement from Suga came after a government ordinance to set the name of the new era from May as Reiwa was approved during an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Officials at the prime minister’s office have apparently informed Emperor Akihito and Crown Prince Naruhito about the new era name through the Imperial Household Agency in a gesture to show respect for them.

On Jan. 7, 1989, when the name of the current Heisei Era was announced, government officials also informed the new emperor, Akihito, before the official announcement. Akihito ascended the throne following the death of his father, Hirohito, earlier that day.

Although the new era name was announced April 1, the government embarked on behind-the-scenes work to come up with candidate names shortly after the current era began by enlisting scholars of Japanese classics, Chinese classics, Japanese history and history of the East.

The government had set six criteria for the name: that it have a positive meaning that would be embraced as the ideal of the Japanese public; that it be comprised of two Chinese characters; be easy to write, easy to read; not have been used in past era names or emperors' posthumous names; and that was not commonly used.