Fire up the printers: ‘Reiwa’ unveiled as Japan’s new imperial era name
At the Tokyo offices of a major calendar maker, executives and employees clustered around a television broke into applause as the country’s next imperial era name was announced: Reiwa.
While the Gregorian calendar is in common use in Japan, the country’s imperial era system is also widely used and the announcement has been closely watched.
And for Kunio Kowaguchi, president of the Todan calendar and diary manufacturer, the announcement was more than just symbolic: It kickstarts a frantic period churning out new products bearing the “Reiwa” name.
About 30 members of the company gathered around a television at the firm’s Tokyo offices when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up the traditional calligraphy revealing the new name.
“I like it, it’s very good,” Kowaguchi told AFP, pointing out that not many Japanese words begin with an ‘r’ sound.
“Reiwa sounds modern but when you see the characters, it’s solemn,” he added.
The government has not yet issued the official translation of the name’s meaning, but it combines the characters “Rei” which can have meanings related to “order” but also “auspicious”, and “Wa” meaning “peace” or “harmony”.
As soon as the two-character name was announced, a Todan designer rushed to her computer to start preparing new layouts for products bearing “gengo” or imperial era dates.
Another employee started consulting digital dictionaries to determine the order in which the strokes of the two characters should be written.
That information was then passed on to a calligrapher who began carefully painting out the two characters as Kowaguchi and others looked on.
The wet ink was hurriedly dried first with a traditional fan and then with a hair dryer to allow the characters to be scanned as quickly as possible.
- ‘50 kinds of calendars’ -
The new era name has arrived too late for Todan’s rollout of 2019 calendars but the company immediately started work on 2020 products, as well as a special production of 800 desktop calendars that will run from May 2019 to March 2020.
For the year 2020, “we are talking about production plans for 50 kinds of calendars with gengo,” Kowaguchi told AFP.
“Plus the special edition for the first year of the new era.”
Japan is the only country in the world still using Chinese-style imperial calendars, and many people still remember historic events by the era year they occurred rather than the corresponding Gregorian date.
So it wasn’t just calendar makers firing up the printing presses on Monday, with Japan’s newspapers quickly issuing special editions that prompted stampedes in parts of central Tokyo.
Among those battling to get their hands on one of the special editions by Tokyo’s Shinbashi station was 24-year-old Shun Fujimoto.
“It has a nice sound and you get a good feeling when you read it,” he said of the new era name.
“It’s a very good choice I think.”
Eight-year-old Manato Nagayama was there with his father to try to snag a copy.
“It’s historic,” the boy’s father said. “That’s why I brought my son here so he could get a special edition. It’s an experience that only comes along very rarely. He is only eight and is already seeing two eras.”