New Japan era name echoes PM Abe's national pride agenda

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Monday unveiled a new name for the imperial era that begins on May 1, drawing from an ancient Japanese text for the first time, echoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative agenda that aims to bolster national pride.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a press conference standing next to the calligraphy 'Reiwa' which was chosen as the new era name at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, Japan, April 1, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters

The name “Reiwa” for the new era when Crown Prince Naruhito becomes emperor, comes from two Chinese characters, the first meaning “good” or “beautiful” as well as “order” or “command” and the second meaning “peace” or “harmony”.

The characters were taken from the Manyoshu, an ancient collection of Japanese poetry, in a break with the tradition of selections from ancient Chinese texts.

The name implied “culture is born and nourished when people’s hearts are drawn beautifully together,” Abe told a news conference.

Asked the significance of its selection from a Japanese classical text, Abe said: “It is a collection which expresses our nation’s rich culture, which we should take pride in, along with our nation’s beautiful nature.

“We believe this national character should be passed along to the next era.”

Abe returned to office in 2012 after abruptly resigning in 2007 following a year plagued by scandals and stalled politics.

He rode a wave of popularity sparked mainly by a pledge to revive the stagnant economy, but has also long favored a conservative agenda aimed at restoring traditional values such as group harmony and pride in Japanese history and culture.

“His (Abe’s) interpretation echoes his calls for Japan to be proud of its roots and its tradition,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University.

“He wants Japan to be proud of their country and this was seen as an opportunity to boost that.”

Japan imported the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago. There have been four era names in the modern period: Meiji, Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and the current Heisei, which means “achieving peace”.

“It was unexpected that it (Reiwa) was taken from the Manyoshu, but it expresses Japanese culture in ‘kanji’ (characters),” said Isao Tokoro, a professor emeritus at Kyoto Sangyo University.

“It means ‘to get along well’ and ‘to be tender’ and shows an important value for 21st century Japan and the world.”

Additional reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Yoshifumi Takemoto; Editing by Clarence Fernandez