Emperor Akihito, the current Japanese emperor, will abdicate to leave his place for his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, on 30 April 2019. Each time a new emperor takes the throne in Japan, a new era name is chosen and announced. Emperor Akihito’s abdication was already planned for more than one year before the new era name was made public.
How do the Era dates work?
Now, we are in 2019, or the 31st year of the Heisei Era. Once the new emperor is crowned, the Reiwa Era will take place, and from 1 May 2019 the year will be known as the 1st year of the Reiwa Era. This first year has a special designation in Japanese. Instead of being called “Reiwa Ichi-nen” (First year of Reiwa / 令和1年) it will be called “Reiwa Gan-nen” (First year of Reiwa / 令和元年).
The last time this happened was in 1989, when Emperor Hirohito died. 1989 was the 64th year of the Showa Era until the emperor’s death on 7 January, and from 8 January on that year was known as Heisei Gan-nen, or the first year of the Heisei Era.
What if the emperor dies before the abdication date?
There is only a slim chance that the current Emperor dies before the next era. However, if he would pass away before his abdication, the era change would simply happen quicker than expected, just like for previous eras.
The day of his death would be the last day of the Heisei Era, and the next day will mark the beginning of the Reiwa Era.
What is the meaning of “Reiwa”?
The meaning of the Reiwa Era is as following in Japanese:
“Reiwa” is translated as “beautiful harmony”. The name is derived from the famous Man’yoshu, an anthology of waka poetry from the Nara Period. The original text goes as follow:
In modern Japanese this would be written as:
Which means in English:
It was in new spring, in a fair (Rei) month,
When the air was clear and the wind a gentle (wa) breeze.
Plum flowers blossomed a beauty’s charming white
And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.