Next month, Emperor Akihito is scheduled to relinquish his position to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. As is tradition in Japan, the reign of a new emperor is accompanied by a new era name, and so on May 1 the Heisei period will end, and the new era, called Reiwa, will begin.
The Japanese government announced the new era name on the morning of April 1. Taken from the Manyoshu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, Reiwa is written in Japanese as 令和, composed of the kanji characters for “order/orderly” and “peace/harmony.”
However, Reiwa wasn’t the only candidate for the new era’s name. Roughly two months ago, a panel of scholars and the prime minister’s cabinet began paring down the list of potential names, and as recently as a week ago there were still six possibilities (including Reiwa) they were looking at. Four more of the final six have now been leaked, so let’s take a look at the era names we almost got before the panel settled on Reiwa.
英 has a number of meanings, including “beautiful,” “glorious,” and even “flower.” 弘, meanwhile, means “wide” or “vast,” which would have made the purported hope that the Eiko period would be one of “vast glory.”
In the Japanese language, most kanji can be pronounced in more than one way, and Eiko is the only one of the rejected candidates for which the specified pronunciation was also leaked. But whether this second candidate was meant to be read as Banwa or Banna, its first kanji, 万, literally means “10,000,” but is also used to signify “great,” “complete,” or “encompassing.” 和, meanwhile, is the same 和 that shows up as the second kanji of Reiwa, making Banwa/Banna “great peace” or “perfect harmony.”
万 shows up once again, this time paired with 保, which means “preservation” or “security,” for an air of “great security” or “complete safety.”
And finally, we come to Koshi/Koji. The first kanji, 広, once again means “wide” or “vast” (it’s the more common version of the alternate 弘 seen in Eiko), while 至 can mean “destination,” “high” or “extreme.” This makes Koshi/Koji the most abstract in meaning of the final-round cuts, but the overall effect is something akin to “great arrival,” an ambitious, if vague, sentiment for the next chapter in Japan’s history.
No reason has been given as to why these four candidates were rejected, but in the process of writing this article, one big advantage of Reiwa became apparent. Since the Japanese language has a ton of homonyms when using a Japanese word processor or phone app to type kanji, you first write the phonetic pronunciation, then select the kanji you want from a list of corresponding possibilities. However, if you enter Eiko, Banwa, Banna, Banho, Banbo, Koshi, or Koji, none of the kanji renderings proposed by the era name panel appear, forcing upon you the annoying inconvenience of rendering each kanji separately. On the other hand, type in “Reiwa,” and the era name’s corresponding kanji, 令和, are near or at the top of the list of options, and since the era that’s about to end, the Heisei era, lasted for 30 years, having a new era name that’s easy to type is going to save the people of modern Japan a lot of time.
Source: NHK News Web via Jin
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