DUBAI: Japan will welcome its 126th emperor in a fascinating, history-filled ceremony on Tuesday, but who is Naruhito and what will his “era” signify?
On April 1 this year, the Japanese public intently waited for the government to announce the name of the nation’s new imperial era following the abdication of Emperor Akihito, who led Japan for 30 years.
Historically, the implementation of the imperial era name (or gengo) dates back to Japan’s modernization days of the Meiji Era in the late 19th century. Simply put, each emperor represented a new era.
This unique system remains relevant in politics and several aspects of daily life, as it is used in official documents, local newspapers and the Japanese calendar.
But the name is of deeper significance than official use. “It’s supposed to convey a certain meaning and motto of what should come during the reign of the emperor,” Dr. Griseldis Kirsch, a senior lecturer on contemporary Japanese culture at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, told Arab News.
Reiwa, officially translated as beautiful harmony, has been selected as the name for the era of the incoming imperial couple Naruhito and Masako.
A two-character term that is derived from an ancient anthology of Japanese poems known as “Manyoshu,” Reiwa has drawn some controversy since the term is “not entirely clear,” said Kirsch.
Linguistically, the characters’ meanings have changed over time, and there was a lack of agreement on a proper English translation.
Although the term represents peace amid the current troubled times, Reiwa has a slightly passive tone compared to the former Heisei (achieving peace) era.
“It’s about Japan and its inner harmony… that’s pretty clear in the second character ‘wa’ because it can mean ‘Japanese’ or ‘Japan’,” said Kirsch.
The relatively young incoming royals have been described time and again as a “modern couple.”
Masako — a Harvard-educated former diplomat who speaks five languages — gave up a promising career to join the Imperial Court.
Then-Crown Prince Naruhito — an Oxford-educated environmentalist who is dedicated to water conservation — reportedly pursued his wife-to-be for years before she finally married him in 1993, after rejecting his proposals over fears her career would be jeopardized.
The imperial couple have been famously candid about their difficulties in starting a family, with Princess Masako suffering a miscarriage in 1999 while Naruhito slammed press’s harassment of his then-pregnant wife as “truly deplorable.”
The couple gave birth to a girl, Princess Aiko, in 2001.