Reiwa: Japan’s Poetic New Imperial Era of ‘Splendid Peace’

Today in Tokyo the much-anticipated name reveal for Japan’s upcoming imperial era was announced. Reiwa, written 令和 will be the new era, which will officially commence on May 1, 2019 when the emperor abdicates the throne and transitions the role to his son. In the coming days, much will be said and written about the meaning behind the new name but here is our take.

Japan’s new imperial era name: Reiwa

The term Reiwa was derived from the Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry dating back to around the mid-700s. The poem describes the scent of plum-blossoms carried by an early Spring breeze and appear in Japanese as: 初春の令月にして、気淑く風和らぎ、梅は鏡前の粉を披、蘭は珮後の香を薫らす

Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum offers the following translation from a 1971 publication:

When with the first month comes the spring,

Thus breaking sprays of plum-blossom,

We’ll taste pleasure to the full

Plants in Early Japanese Poetry

令 (rei) was taken from 令月, meaning a splendid month. It’s an old character that is unfamiliar to most and has never been used in an imperial era name. Meanwhile, 和 (wa) was taken from 風和らぎ, meaning soft breaze. It’s a very familiar character that’s known to many to mean harmony or peace. In that sense, it’s a very combination of old and new, and is meant to signify splendid peace – 令和.

7 Comments

  1. Buckeye Chuck

    April 3, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    I know poetry is difficult to translate, but that is a particularly loose translation …

    • The new name is meant for the people of Japan. It derives from THEIR culture, not yours. I think it is beautiful and I pray to the gods that it will prove to be true for as long as the era reigns.

    • …so where’s yours then?

    • Agreed – that’s a big gloss over the last two phrases.

  2. At the first whispered breath of spring, gentle plum blossoms float by
    a looking-glass; fragrance of orchids fill the atmosphere…

    and that’s just from playing around with Google Translate for a few moments.

    • Very good, but not sure they had google translate in 1971 so not fair to compare really!lol

  3. in anycase, lets not got bogged down in semantics. ReiWa is a lovely name for Japan’s new imperial era. Im sure it will mean alot to the people of Japan.

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