Goodbye Heisei, hello Reiwa!

On April 30, Emperor Akihito will abdicate from his position as monarch of Japan, ending 30 years of Heisei and beginning a new era — to be known as Reiwa — as announced today. (For more on the background to the era change, see the bottom of this article.)

What’s in a name: Insight on Japanese era and identity

The era names play an interesting role in generational identity in Japan. Much like people in the West label certain age groups as “millennials” or “Gen X,” many Japanese people also refer to distinct values, trends and fashions as those belonging to the “Heisei-born” (roughly 30 or younger) or the “Showa-born” (over 30 to early 90s).

To gauge public opinion on the era change, Rakuten’s consumer research branch Rakuten Insight surveyed 1,000 Heisei- and Showa-born people aged 20 to 69, ahead of the announcement of the name on April 1.

Happy now and optimistic about the future: Under-30s Heisei-born

60-70% of the Heisei-born under-30s consider the Heisei Period to have been a generally positive experience. It’s hard to say how much weight their opinion carries, however, having never experienced any other era. The overall number was closer to 50%.

When asked about which era they would have preferred to be born in, the majority of each category chose their own era. However, over half of the Showa-born (30s-60s) survey respondents confessed that living to see a third era will make them feel old.

Optimism about the future also skewed towards the younger generations: Showa-born survey respondents were more jaded, with only 50% optimistic about the new era compared to 60% of Heisei-born.

Hope for economic recovery: 30s focus on child rearing conditions

Participants were surveyed on their hopes for Japan in the new era, to which an overwhelming majority — around 70% overall and nearly 84% of those in their 30s — replied “economic recovery.” Around half hoped for wage increases, a number closer to 65% for those in their 20s and 30s. Nearly 70% of participants in their 30s wanted to see improvements in Japan’s environmental conditions for child rearing, compared to less than 40% overall.

Interestingly, it was Japan’s older generation that showed the most concern for environmental conservation — around 4o% of those in their 50s and 60s compared to just 23% to 26% amongst those in their 20s and 30s.

As for New Era Resolutions, over half of those surveyed reported that they had nothing in mind. Heisei-born participants were a little more enthusiastic, with around 65% reporting some sort of resolution, such as foreign travel, saving or investing money, making friends and studying something new.

The way we communicate changed more than anything else

One thing all of the age groups agreed on was what had changed most in Japan during the Heisei Period: Communications. Nearly 70% said that the communications environment, including the rise of phones and the internet, stood out the most over the past three decades, with the next highest answer (changes in family structure) receiving just 6.3%.

Despite concerns about the environment and how to raise children, it seems Japan holds a healthy amount of optimism for the future, and people are excited about what the new era will bring.  The upcoming 10-day holiday to mark this momentous occasion is also nothing to be sneezed at.

The new era name — announced today by the committee on the first day of the new financial year, just one month before the era officially begins on May 1 — is Reiwa (令 and 和). According to the official explanation, the two characters that comprise the era name “Reiwa” represent an era where people band together to create a better society and are based on a passage from the Manyoshu, the earliest existing anthology of Japanese poetry.

The Showa period (昭和, pictured left) ran from December 25, 1926 to January 7, 1989. The Heisei period (平成, pictured right) started on January 8, 1989 and will end on April 30, 2019. The Reiwa period will start on May 1.

(And for those who would like a little more background on the era naming…)

Showa? Heisei? What’s with the names?

Showa, Heisei (see image above), Reiwa (main image): If these words sound a little unfamiliar, let us explain a bit about Japanese era names.

In addition to the more common Gregorian calendar, Japan has an older calendar system closely tied to the imperial family. As a rule of thumb, the era name changed with each change of emperor — for the last 1,300 years.

The name of an era is chosen at its opening and is intended to represent that period in Japanese society. The two characters in Heisei (平 and 成), for example, meant “peace” and “achieving”— representing the country’s desire to achieve peace.

There is always much speculation surrounding how the new era will be represented, and the naming committee — appointed by the prime minister — does not take the decision lightly. The decision-making process is long and secretive, and there are strict rules about what the name can be.

The new era name — announced today by the committee on the first day of the new financial year, just one month before the era officially begins on May 1 — is Reiwa (令 and 和 ). According to the official explanation, the two characters that comprise the era name “Reiwa” represent an era where people band together to create a better society and are based on a passage from the Manyoshu, the earliest existing anthology of Japanese poetry.

Emperor Akihito and his Heisei reign

The Heisei period began on January 8, 1989, after the 64-year Showa period came to an end with the death of Akihito’s father, Hirohito. Emperor Akihito, currently the 125th emperor of the world’s oldest uninterrupted monarchy, has spent much of his reign promoting peace and harmony between Japan and its neighbors. The year 2018 was the year Heisei 30, marking the 30th year of Akihito’s reign.

In 2016, Akihito expressed his desire to abdicate and pass the throne to his eldest son Naruhito, indicating that he did not want old age to get in the way of his official duties. While it was not uncommon to change era names in the wake of major natural disasters or just to drive away bad luck, since the Meiji period began in 1868 the era name has been strictly tied to imperial enthronements.

Since there hasn’t been an imperial abdication within the royal family for over 200 years, the Japanese government passed a bill to allow the abdication to happen, opening the door for the upcoming Reiwa period to start on May 1.