A passerby reads a newspaper extra showing the new era name outside Tokyo's Shimbashi Station on Monday. Photo: AP/Koji Sasahara
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Gov't says official translation for next era name Reiwa is 'beautiful harmony'

71 Comments
By Mari Yamaguchi

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Unfortunately, the govt doesn't understand Chinese. 令, in this case, represents time, not beautiful, as simple as that.

-17 ( +7 / -24 )

The Japanese government said Tuesday that the official translation of the era name for the new emperor will be "Beautiful Harmony," setting off confusion while offices rush to make changes before Crown Prince Naruhito takes the throne.

How is an English translation of the kanji setting off confusion?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It’s flabbergasting that we need to be told what the characters mean!

However, with such a regressive government in power then it starts to make sense.

8 ( +17 / -9 )

I am goinh to wait for further clarification that actually makes sense.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I know lots of people not one cares about this at all

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

macv, do you know all 127 million Japanese at all ? Of course if you live in India, no one cares about it. But if you live in China, there are 1.6 billion people who do care, as simple as that.

-13 ( +6 / -19 )

Likely after hearing so much negative reaction from the populace, the government quickly gathered behind closed doors to come up with a “softer” translation that they can try to pacify us all with.

“Here, Baby, suck on this ‘sugar-coated barbed wire candy’ and stop whining.”

18 ( +20 / -2 )

kurisupisu

It’s flabbergasting that we need to be told what the characters mean!

A word, any word, has multiple meanings. Nothing special. Unless it is used in a full context, it must be explained. Since this is a title, not a word in any context, it had to be explained.

"Rei", in particular, has three distinct meanings. The source from which it was picked was one of the most ancient Japanese literature (1300 years ago). The word had to be explained, particularly, for foreigners.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Well let’s reflect that and live that 8nstesd of just drawing Kanji’s about it!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

socrateos, what do you mean by "the most ancient Japanese literature" ? There are many literature in Japan more ancient than that.

-12 ( +2 / -14 )

The word had to be explained, particularly, for foreigners.

I would say that there are plenty of Japanese as well that did not know it's ancient Japanese meaning either.

18 ( +19 / -1 )

At the time of Manyoshu, Japan did not have their own letters to write and borrowed the sound of kanji letters to express their words. So, the meaning of each kanji was ignored and only the phonetics of kanji was borrowed expressing their words. After all, discussing the true meaning of 令 " rei " does not mean much. It is Japanese interpretation. We are returning to the time of Manyoshu.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Ok so Reiwa supposedly = beautiful harmony in English

Wonder Reiwa supposedly = in Japanese...……….

Seems there is no rush to refine/define in Japanese itself, if the govt wants to leave it OPEN to interpretation, then I think the darker sides of Rei have likely crept into this new era! But who knows...………...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Commanding peace?? Cue imperial march music from Star Wars...

6 ( +9 / -3 )

 But if you live in China, there are 1.6 billion people who do care, as simple as that.

The current estimated population of China is 1.4 billion. China is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial country not just in terms of social reality but also in terms of official government policy. I rather doubt that Uyghurs, for example, are the least bit interested in Japanese reign names. Indeed, there is little evidence that Han Chinese are all that interested. The Chinese government has gone on record saying that the reign name is a Japanese matter and not an issue for China.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

bullfighter, hahaha. Who says there are 1.6 billion Chinese ? What I said is 1.6 billion people. Put together Japanese, Koreans and Chinese, how many of them ?

-10 ( +5 / -15 )

Akie, Japanese, Korean and Chinese are not the same "people", and you repeatedly saying so doesn't make it so. China doesn't have a claim on Japan, get over it.

I like that that they used a Japanese poetry reference rather than Chinese this time.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

According to Google translate it is 'demeanor'.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Everyone seems to have forgotten that "wa" is frequently used to describe Japan and its people. The common words using the character are "和食、和牛 和服 和洋" all meaning "Japanese" not "peace."

And as it's been pointed out "rei" today is often for words like orders, instructions, arrest, command, etc. so the obvious intrepretation of 令和 would be something like "commanded Japanese" or "ordered japanese." I find it hard to believe the govt didnt have that in mind.

11 ( +16 / -5 )

Whatever they choose, and sure this has potentially some not great connotations, there would be people who would have found some meaning to get upset about.

We know Abe is somewhat rightwing, not a fan, but thats who the people rightly or wrongly voted for, it is what it is, and mostly a big meh.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

NZ2011, what do you mean by saying " not the same people" ? If Japanese are not people, then what are they ? The trouble is that the first time the govt used Japanese poetry reference, and caused a lot of confusing. But the Japanese poetry is actually 95% identical to Chinese poetry. In a legal term, China can sue Abe govt.

-17 ( +1 / -18 )

Like we all know, Rei doesn’t really mean beautiful, but I guess that’s the figurative translation into English.

The other Rei’s used for girls 玲、麗、礼、all of a sudden look so old 令子 sounds classical too because of ko. Maybe “Rei” 令 by itself will be a popular name for girls. Consider 令実、令香、令羽。

Then Id go for 令文 Reimon for Raymond for the boy.

The first child born in Reiwa eventually will appear on TV. This is Japan.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

quercetum, good posting. I can give 4 different interpretations, including a very hidden one. Since the name came from poetry, 令 here means timing.

-11 ( +2 / -13 )

In the end, "Reiwa" will be defined by the events that occur within the era, regardless of the meaning of the term.

I am not saying the underlying meaning is not important. However, Showa is remembered for the events that occurred during the era, rather than meaning of Showa itself. As an example.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Akie, you are trying to put Chinese, Koreans and Japanese into one group to suit your political view, but it simply isn't the case.

Its Japans system, like the name or not what is it to do with China?

China can sue Japan over the use of some characters... what on earth are you talking about?

Its no secret that Japanese Kanji is based on traditional Chinese characters, but so what.. English characters just as an example comes from all sorts of places greek, norman, semitic etc etc.. no-one owns it.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Naming something, in many cases, is done with one's hope that it will come true like the namesake. One must also note that a language changes in its grammar, sounds and meanings.

So, we must take experts' comments into account very seriously. They say "rei (令)" today means "order, "command" and "dictate" with an authoritarian tone and, some say,  with a causative meaning. The name "reiwa" can thus mean peace to be accomplished by the order and command of some higher-up. 

If the government decided it would mean "beautiful harmony," I feel there's something fishy in it because Abe likes to always call the country "beautiful Japan."

1 ( +4 / -3 )

When I referred to system I mean the naming of the period, again not denying that Kanji comes from traditional chinese, of it does.

Just saying, Japan can name its period whatever it likes...

Again you never actually answer my comments..

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

”Beautiful Harmony,"

Sounds more like a Japanese whisky!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

All the confusion and lack of clarity in meaning surely means the selection panel had a bit of a fail.

I believe choosing simple to write and read (hence understand) characters is one of the crirical criterias for a new Gengo.

That the panel didn't consider that, means they were probably not on the same page as most ordinary citizens.

Almost a case of being too clever perhaps.

There are 1,000s of words from Olde English for example, whose ancient meanings and usage are not consistent with modern readings. I assume Japanese and all languages for that matter are the same.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I’ll stick with 2019. You know...to keep pace with the rest of the world.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The Chinese rightly read a menacing nuance in the character 令 and so do some Japanese. The other, lesser, ancient usage of this character in Chinese was as a courteous prefix when addressing family members and by extension came to signify the idea of beautiful or auspicious ( a religious connotation ), but the main meaning of 令 is to order or make happen. The stiff aura of the character is inescapable and likely so intended in the choice of the Gengo. Using a graceful poem from the Manyoshu as a source gives a beautiful cover to the ambivalence of the Gengo's Chinese characters. All in all, 令和 was an artful choice. Authoritarian Abe must now be delighted by all the head scratching over the character's multivalence that to many smacks of an iron fist in a velvet glove. To put the icing on the cake 和 reminds many not only of peace but of Japanese national identity conjuring up memories of how in the past peace among the Japanese people was maintained by military might.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Weblio has two translations for 令月: "auspicious month" and "second month of the lunar calendar." Read the poem and you'll understand the meaning better:

師の老の宅に萃まりて、宴会を申く。時に、初春の令月にして、気淑く風和ぎ、梅は鏡前の粉を披き、蘭は珮後の香を薫す

which could be translated as:

We gather at the residence of Otomo no Tabito (665 - September 4, 731, a poet of the early Nara period) and hold a banquet. Sometimes in the early spring sky, the moon appears to accomplish its tasks, and the atmosphere is refreshed by plum blossoms like the white powder applied by a beautiful girl in front of a mirror, and the orchids burn like incense.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

If the government/Imperial household says it means peace or harmony, that's what we should hold them to. I don't particularly care whether the characters themselves have other historical meanings or possible interpretations.

As a specific example, I don't see how revoking Article 9 could promote "beautiful harmony". Any politician seeking to do that should forced to justify it on this as well as the other axes.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

However, some experts said the first Chinese character, "Rei," today is most widely thought to mean "order," ''command" and "dictate," with an authoritarian tone.

Historians and experts on the monarchy noted that an 1864 era name proposal of "Reitoku" using the same first character was rejected by the Tokugawa Shogunate, which said it sounded like the emperor was commanding Tokugawa.

"The name sounds as if we are ordered to achieve peace, rather than doing so proactively," Kazuto Hongo, a University of Tokyo historian, said on TV Asahi.

Yoshinori Kobayashi, a conservative cartoonist who has written books on Japanese emperors, said the character "Rei" portrays "the people kneeling down under the crown. It's meaning, after all, is a command of a monarch or a ruler. ... It is inevitable that Reiwa gives a somewhat cold impression."

That.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

.

Oh - - -as opposed to ,what??? - - ugly harmony ???

.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This smells of Abe.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

macv, do you know all 127 million Japanese at all ? Of course if you live in India, no one cares about it. But if you live in China, there are 1.6 billion people who do care, as simple as that.

Why would the Chinese care what reading is assigned to these two characters?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Gov't says official translation for next era name Reiwa is 'beautiful harmony'" - end of story.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

However, some experts said the first Chinese character, "Rei," today is most widely thought to mean "order," ''command" and "dictate," with an authoritarian tone.

The experts are wrong. This kanji has always meant 'command' and has been used in this context by the ruling class for centuries. Therefore, the real meaning of Reiwa is, "Do as you are ordered and there will be peace." There is a Japanese proverb that sums it up quite well, "The nail that stands up, must be hammered down."

5 ( +7 / -2 )

era name for the new emperor

emperor

Look, I rather like Emperor Akihito, I think he's a nice guy and genuinely wants world peace.

But the whole idea of royalty... I dunno... putting certain people on a pedestal above the minions solely because of who their parents are... is somehow... not right.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Akie,

China doesn't own Kanji characters, just like England doesn't own English.

Relax and stop looking for every chance to paint Japan badly, in favor of your concerning political leanings.

(Japan does enough odd things to be genuinely concerned with, don't need to make up fake outrage)

Japan is a sovereign nation, not part of China chillax. :-)

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Chip Star, why would Chinese care ? I can give you 2000 reasons, get it ? One word: faithful.

Oh, you think the Chinese have a monopoly on what Chinese character used in Japan mean. You all may want to stick to your hilarious claims of ownership over the South China Sea. Look! "China" is part of the name, so we own it.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Schopenhauer:

At the time of Manyoshu, Japan did not have their own letters to write and borrowed the sound of kanji letters to express their words. So, the meaning of each kanji was ignored and only the phonetics of kanji was borrowed expressing their words.

No.

The Manyo-gana is more complex. It uses combination of both pure phonetics of kanji as well as meaning of kanji but with Japanese reading.

For example, "昔見至" reads "むかしみし", or "mukashi mi shi". The first two kanji characters ("昔見") are used for their meaning of kanji, not phonetics, but read in Japanese. The last kanji ("至") is used for its sound, not meaning.

You can imagine why this happened. Writing a kanji for each phonetic sound takes to much labor and time! So they developed a technique called "訓仮名", or kun-kana. It uses kanji for its meaning but read in Japanese! Instead of writing 3 kanji characters for a Japanese word "むかし", they wrote one kanji "昔" and read "mukashi".

Japanese kanji, unlike Chinese counter part, has multiple readings: "音読み(on-yomi)" and "訓読み(kun-yomi)" to this date!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My kanji dictionary gives as the first meaning of 令, 「いいつけ」meaning an order, command, directions or instructions.

It gives examples of its use in words like 令状 (a warrant or writ), 令旨 (a command from a monarch), 号令 (an order or command), 命令 (a command or injunction) etc.

The meaning seems pretty clear.

令和 = harmony/Japan imposed from above.

The more I think about it, the less I like it. I don't think it's going to grow on me after all. I agree with Pukey2.

I suppose we should be thankful it isn't 令安.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Everyone seems to have forgotten that "wa" is frequently used to describe Japan and its people. The common words using the character are "和食、和牛 和服 和洋" all meaning "Japanese" not "peace."

And as it's been pointed out "rei" today is often for words like orders, instructions, arrest, command, etc. so the obvious intrepretation of 令和 would be something like "commanded Japanese" or "ordered japanese." I find it hard to believe the govt didnt have that in mind.

I find this very interesting exposition, Jeff Lee. I would not be the least bit surprised by a secret code for the Japanese and a great deal of obfuscation for the rest of the world.

Ironically, commanded and ordered Japanese are very likely deeply comforted Japanese.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

has lots of meanings:

to order; to command

to make (someone do something); to cause; to allow

(historical) governor; magistrate (official title)

good; excellent

time; season

drinking game

(respectful) your

(poemShort for 小令 (“ditty”).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wishful thinking, or euphemism? Both characters have authoritarian or nationalist nuances.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@Cleo

Or even worse - 安令 !

1 ( +2 / -1 )

It is indeed euphemism. The Tolstoyian interpretation renders Beautiful Harmony War and Peace.

The other candidate era name was 久升 Kyujo, something similar to Onwards and Upwards, but is also the homonym for Our Tickle Nine. This is all about Abe’s legacy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

You know how people say a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it? Kinda getting those vibes.

Although I’ve gotten used to having my students look at me like I’ve grown a second head as I try to explain wasei go (eg cola isn’t considered a juice in USA), it is nice to turn the tables and have them explain to me for once.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The more you look into the meaning of a name, the less of the truth you'll come to see. People are looking way too deeply at the possible meanings of Reiwa, and it seems there's a lot of bias swaying their opinions/findings. While it may be true that the "Rei" part means command now, did it do so in the 7th century? The era name draws from a 7th century poem for a reason, but it seems like too many are ignoring/overlooking this point in their pursuit of finding negative connotations. That's going to be extremely counterproductive to the "beautiful harmony" that is being aimed for. But; that's Human nature in a nutshell. We've been dividing ourselves for thousands of years. Old habits die hard, and changing to a more harmonious mindset is going to take time, especially since we seem reluctant to do that. Heck, just take a look at what happened to Malcolm X, John Lennon, Martin Luther kIng, and so many others who have also suggested that we should live in harmony. Some day we'll figure it out, but I won't get my hopes up about it happening in my life time, or even within the next 1,000 years at this rate.

Reiwa... I like it, though "Reiwa Era" doesn't quite roll of the tongue as easily as, for example, Heisei Era.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Lets reflect on the term Heisei era. In the beginning it meant something like „ becoming equal“ among the locals. Now it turns out to be the age of „ power to the powerful“ in afterthoughts. Which is conservatism.

As for „Rei“ 4th graders learn that with two strokes upfront it’s used in refrigerator as being the local reizouko. 

While the use of „Wa“ was turned upside down during Shōwa era.

So what a rather dreadful term this is.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

With my vast knowledge of Classical Japanese, Chinese and esoteric religious literature, I can assure you that the only correct translation is that “It’s Party Time!”

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Spoke with a few Japanese in town yesterday. Most don’t like it because they believe it means controlled peace or forced peace.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

People are looking way too deeply at the possible meanings

The first two entries in the dictionary is looking too deeply??

You have to dig down to the fourth entry to find anything vaguely like what Abe says he wants it to mean.

While it may be true that the "Rei" part means command now, did it do so in the 7th century?

Quick, without looking - are we living in the 7th century now, or the 21st?

Do people speak 7th century Japanese, or modern Japanese?

The era name draws from a 7th century poem for a reason

And what would that be? Other nengo came from Chinese classics, not Japanese.

Reiwa refers to the beauty of plum blossoms after a tough winter

In other words Heisei was a tough winter that we should all be relieved is finally over? Not very complementary to Akihito, I would have thought.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

令師の老の宅に萃まりて、宴会を申く。時に、初春の令月にして、気淑く風和ぎ、梅は鏡前の粉を披き、蘭は珮後の香を薫す

The above is closer to prose. The poetry would be something like:

師宅萃、宴会申

初春月令、気淑風和

梅鏡前粉披、蘭香珮後薫

We gather at the residence of Otomo no Tabito (665 - September 4, 731, a poet of the early Nara period) and hold a banquet. Sometimes in the early spring sky, the moon appears to accomplish its tasks, and the atmosphere is refreshed by plum blossoms like the white powder applied by a beautiful girl in front of a mirror, and the orchids burn like incense.

Could also be translated as the following, which is probably closer to what transpired that night:

The teacher invites the student(s) over to his place. Sometime in the night, he exerts his dominance and virginity vanishes into the air like scarlet plum blossoms on powdery white snow. The scent of sex lingers.

*師**: teacher, poet, leader, PM Abe, politician, boss, manager*

*宅**: the castle, dungeon, home, palace*

*初春**: early spring, virginity, innocence, youth*

*令月**: yin, darkness, female, first period, menarche, domination, authority, transformation*

*梅**: plum blossoms, red or dark pink, blood*

*粉**: powder, woman, white, snow on plums in February*

*蘭香**: the scent of semen*

We just need someone to provide the Old English version of this.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

here's the link to the actual 万葉集 poem :

https://ja.wikisource.org/wiki/%E4%B8%87%E8%91%89%E9%9B%86/%E7%AC%AC%E4%BA%94%E5%B7%BB

[歌番号]05/0815

[題詞]梅花歌卅二首[并序] / 天平二年正月十三日 萃于帥老之宅 申宴會也 于時初春令月 氣淑風和梅披鏡前之粉 蘭薫珮後之香 加以 曙嶺移雲 松掛羅而傾盖 夕岫結霧鳥封縠而迷林 庭舞新蝶 空歸故鴈 於是盖天坐地 膝飛觴 忘言一室之裏 開衿煙霞之外 淡然自放 快然自足 若非翰苑何以攄情 詩紀落梅之篇古今夫何異矣 宜賦園梅聊成短詠

the era name is taken from the above preface to the poem, written in 100% kanji, rather than the actual main poem, because the main poem uses kanji characters for reading/pronounciation purposes only, and totally un-useable for taking out as quotes.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

While war refugees from Syria struggle to make new lives for themselves abroad, or die in Assad's prisons, while China continues to persecute Muslims and Christians, while sensitive Japanese children going back to school this month may be contemplating suicide... old men in their 80s are saying.... 'Reiwa... Reiwa... ahh! yes, Reiwa... much better than 'Banwa'.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I want 'Banwa'. Sounds cool! And it suits Abe's Banana-republic government!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

FoxSoraWinters... you've overthought this WAY too much!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

re: the alternate proposals... 'banwa' was the best.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Rich getting richer

Elderly masses swelling

Impoverished masses swelling even more

Work until you drop

Adults

The new ere awaits!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

令和 = harmony/Japan imposed from above.

“Peace...Or Else”

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The experts are wrong. This kanji has always meant 'command' and has been used in this context by the ruling class for centuries. Therefore, the real meaning of Reiwa is, "Do as you are ordered and there will be peace." 

Classical scholarship at its finest.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What's it supposed to be in "beautiful harmony" with ?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How is an English translation of the kanji setting off confusion?

It played havoc with my English language spell-checker. It kept changing Reiwa to review.

But seriously, "Beautiful Harmony" sounds a little false to me. As if everybody is waring those rose tinted spectacles.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wish the new era name would've been something like ''progressiveness'' and ''tradition'' to indicate that Japan will continue to progress or become more open but also maintain their core values, or something of that sort. The kanji for ''openness'' or ''progress'' would've been more appropriate for Japan in the upcoming era.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

At least the era name decision has triggered a flurry of study of Chinese characters.

When the Reiwa era ends years from now, I predict that the intended meaning of Rei will be well-entrenched and accepted amongst most, with little thought of conspiracy theories.

Have a good Reiwa everyone!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese Abe government and authorities often use different expressions in domestic and overseas to evade concern or criticism from overseas.

Expression the "beautiful harmony" is vanity for present Japan as same as Olympics 2020.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Get off the petty discussion.

The simple point is that while Chinese based characters are used, just as with English characters are used, the word is a "Japanese" word as "recognized" and "used" by the Japanese. It is for Japan and the Japanese and "not" for or to satisfy any other country or groups. This is our host country Japan. They have their own ways and while we can comment, there is no "should be" or "must be" that we can dictate.

I for one have difficulty with the "sounding" of the words. I also have difficulty identifying the words with the new "era" with what is happening in the world today and how and what kind of role Japan will play in this era.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'harmony' in their view is a kind of mental disease of homogeny and murdering/weeding out those who are 'different'...those different in the good sense of different. they want everyone to be like them, following their ways and ideals, eliminating any kind of threat or competition..enforcing a passive/aggressive way. and when you disagree or speak up about it, you are wrong. its like persecuting free speech in a way. nothing beautiful about that. they should seek beauty in disharmony, helping and being a friend to those who are not in their popular circles.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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