Following his interview with Max Whittle about the Kifubon project, Nick Crabb in Japan reports about the new era which was recently the subject of a public announcement there.
On May 1, 2019, Emperor Akihito ascended the throne and Japan christened its new era as "Reiwa". Compared with the royal surnames associated with eras of British history, such as "Victorian" or "Edwardian", a specific name is chosen for each era ushered in by a new Emperor of Japan. The kanji characters chosen for each name are intended to portray Japan's hopes for the coming years, with Reiwa (令和) translating to "beautiful harmony" or "peace". Of course this name only serves as an aspiration, as it would be unrealistic for a few words to predict a nation's history from a certain point in time (though "war" and "conflict" could probably do so for most of the UK’s and many other countries’). Nevertheless, looking back on previous eras' names and their eventual outcomes may help forecast the likelihood of Reiwa's aspirations for peace.
The reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926–1989) was referred to as the "Shōwa" (昭和) era, which shares a second character with Reiwa (令和) and translates to "enlightened harmony".
Unfortunately, both enlightenment and harmony appeared in short supply at the start of this era. Japan entered into wars with its Asian neighbors throughout the 1930s and the allied nations in the Second World War.
As part of the post-war 1947 constitution, the Emperor was redefined as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people", and Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution outlawed war as a means to settle international disputes. The US occupation of Japan ended peacefully in 1952, and the nation set to rebuild itself and its place on the world stage. Memorials were erected to commemorate those who lost their lives in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (150,000 estimated dead) and Nagasaki (75,000 estimated dead), and spread a message of peace around the world during the climate of the Cold War. Japan soon rose to the world's second largest economy in 1968 and almost overtook the US in the late 1980's. While this rise was accompanied by dissent from a displaced US still paying for Japan's defense, Japan proved what could be achieved by a nation with a pacifist constitution, without nuclear posturing and without a single bullet being fired. You could say that an enlightened harmony was reached.
The ascension of Emperor Akihito (1989–2019) was christened the "Heisei" (平成) era, which translates to a similar theme of "achieving peace". However, peace was tested immediately in the First Gulf War with repeated calls for Japan to provide troops for the international coalition in spite of its pacifist constitution. Instead Japan contributed $13 billion to help fund the military operation, some still felt humiliated as Japanese troops sculpted ice figures at a snow festival on local TV, while coalition troops fought live on CNN. In contrast, voices from the rest of Asia have increasingly spoken out against wartime atrocities such as the Nanjing massacre (more than 200,000 estimated dead) and of fears of a remilitarised Japan. In response, Japan appears to have wrangled over apologies and reverted to historical revisionism, adding layers of gloss to school textbooks, to the point where some Japanese now question whether the Nanjing massacre even took place. Despite Heisei ending peacefully, Japan appears to have been pushed and pulled further from achieving peace in the future.
On May 3rd 2019, two days after Emperor Akihito's ascension, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called to amend the pacifist constitution in 2020 with support from the US. As the sun rises on Reiwa, shadows are already cast on its peaceful aspirations, although the day is not through yet.