The name of the new era was announced last week on 1 April 2019, a month before it starts on 1 May following the formal abdication of Emperor Akihito the previous day. So, after 30 years, Heisei will come to an end and Reiwa will start.
There was a slight confusion over the kanji for the new ‘reiwa’ (令和). A friend thought the first one was written (冷) meaning cool or cold, rather than (令) which has a meaning of order or command. If the former, then the new name could mean ‘Cold Peace’ or even ‘Cool Japan! In which case we could be welcoming a new era in sharp contrast to the War years during the Showa era of Emperor Hirohito (1926 – 1989.) But what’s in a name? To the Japanese quite a lot it seems as the announcement was met by cheers and tears, and bewilderment as many struggled to find a deeper meaning in the words. The nationalistic Government has explained that the characters were chosen from a passage in ‘‘Manyoshu’’, Japan’s oldest known poetry anthology; this breaks with the long tradition of using Chinese classics as the source.
The change was announced in the week in which the cherry blossom was in full bloom. As usual the crowds were out in force sipping sake under the sakura in the parks and anyway the blossom could be soon for the annual hanami festival. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are known to take a private constitutional early in the morning in the inner Garden of the Imperial Palace.
On Sunday however, they couple left for a brief stroll outside the palace much to the surprise and delight of pedestrians and the joggers for whom an outer 5km circuit of the palace moat is one of the favourite running courses in Tokyo. This will be their last chance to participate in this ritual as they will move out soon swapping palaces with their son, Crown Prince Naruhito who will succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
But hanami is touched with sadness as it is short-lived. Within a week or 10 days the blossoms begin to fall reminding us of how our own hold on life can be beautiful but tenuous and that we need to live for the day, so on Sunday for the last open day of the Heisei era we joined the crowds on a beautiful spring day to enjoy the privilege of the blooms in the palace grounds before they disappear.
Leaving the palace through the Inuimon Gate we then walked along the famous Chidorigafuchi
and for the first time into the national cemetery where a monument bears a poem written by the Emperor which translated reads: ’Having walked through times when there was no such great war, my thoughts go out to the people who have lived through the days of cruel hardship’. This is a recurring theme of his as he reflects on his reign and perhaps looks forward to a long, well-deserved peaceful retirement.