May 1, 2019 marks the beginning of a new era for Japan and its people. And I am lucky to experience it first hand. Unfortunately, I have work during the coronation day, but I did a few reading about this very auspicious event.
Emperor Akihito has stepped down from the Chrysanthemum Throne last April 30, 2019 – the first imperial abdication in at least 200 years – due to health reasons. This marks the end of the Heisei period which lasted over three decades. As with tradition, Emperor Akihito will not adopt the name “Emperor Heisei” until his death (which we all hope will be VERY far from now) but will henceforth be known as The Emperor Emeritus 「上皇」. His wife, Empress Michiko, will also adapt the title of The Empress Emeritus 「上皇后 」.
Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako, will be now known as the Emperor and Empress of the Reiwa Period 「令和」. Emperor Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, will be the heir presumptive due to the lack of son from the emperor’s family. There is, however, a rumor (just a rumor!) that Japan laws might change to allow females to take the throne. This would give Princess Aiko a chance to accede to the throne after her father if it ever comes true.
Emperor Naruhito’s accession to the the throne while the previous emperor is still living is not the only non-traditional break he’s done. He is also the first Japanese royal who has placed education atop his priorities. He even studied in Oxford for two years before coming back to Japan to resume his duties as the Crown Prince. He also followed his father’s footstep in marrying outside the royal line and choosing Princess Masako, a former career diplomat. He is a protective husband and father to the two most important women in his life.
Another break he has done was in choosing and approving the name of his new era. The name 令和 has been the cause of some debate on the internet. For one, it is the only era name taken from classic Japanese literature while all previous names were from classic Chinese literature. There was also a debate about it’s meaning.
Some took the kanjis’s individual translation as 「令」decree and 「和」harmony as a “command for harmony”. However, the Japanese Foreign Ministry provided an unofficial interpretation as “beautiful harmony” as taken from the classic poem from which the characters originated:
It was in new spring, in a fair month,
When the air was clear and the wind a gentle breeze.
Plum flowers blossomed a beauty’s charming white
And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.
A nine-member expert panel chose the new era name with careful consideration, so I’m sure they know what they were doing. Thus, Heisei Period ends its 31st year on April 30, 2019 and Reiwa Period begins on May 1, 2019. The major impact of era change for me is that I am now officially part of the old era (1990 -> Heisei 2), and probably considered as an old person. LOL!
The abdication also meant a change in the way Japan will celebrate the ascension of the new emperor. Before, new emperors are crowned (not literally – there’s no crown involved) after the mourning period following the death of the previous emperor. But since the Emperor Emeritus is still alive, the coronation is one of joyous event to welcome the new imperial leader of Japan.
Therefore, it was decided to celebrate both events in the middle of Golden Week which resulted to a 10-day holiday for most people:
- April 27 – Saturday preceding the start of Golden Week
- April 28 – Sunday, extra Holiday
- April 29 – Showa Day celebrating the birthday of the late Emperor Showa
- April 30 – Emperor Akihito’s abdication
- May 1 – Emperor Naruhito’s accession
- May 2 – extra holiday after coronation
- May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day
- May 4 – Greenery Day
- May 5 – Children’s Day
- May 6 – End of Golden Week, extra Holiday
During the accession, Emperor Naruhito received two out of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan: the sword Kusanagi「草薙劍 」”Valor” and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama 「 八尺瓊勾玉 」”Benevolence”. The third treasure, the mirror Yata no Kagami 「 八咫鏡 」”Wisdom”, is permanently enshrined at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. Imperial messengers and Shinto priests will be sent to the shrine and to the shrine-tombs of the previous emperors to announce the accession of the new emperor.
The actual Enthronement Ceremony will take place on October 22, 2019 – another holiday for Japan. There will also be a ritual and procession to receive good wishes from the people to the new emperor. Finally, February 23, 2020 will be the first celebration of Emperor Naruhito’s birthday on the throne.
All in all, this is a good year for Japan and it’s people. Like New Year’s celebration, the people are welcoming this new era with renewed energy and hope. I, for one, am looking forward to the changes the new imperial leader will bring to this country I consider as my second home. 🙂