The Reiwa Era, is an extra special occasion considering a Japanese emperor is expected to rule until death.
Photo © Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool via Bloomberg
As the Heisei Era comes to a close, the whole country is reflecting upon the last 3 decades, looking forward to a well-deserved 10-day holiday, and wondering what the future will hold; not just for themselves, but for the imperial line as well.
The new era, to be named “Reiwa Era” (令和) strikes some controversy in the media. Notably, the kanji mean “order/command” and “peace,” which comes across a little strong. However, the government claims it means “beautiful harmony.” Heisei meant “achieving peace,” and was the first era since the modernization of Japan without a world war. This new era will affect the daily lives of Japan-dwellers, as in addition to the western calendar, years are counted by era. On many forms, you’re born in Heisei 3 (not 1991), or you got your driver’s license in Showa 61 (1986).
On April 30th, 2019, Emperor Akihito will officially abdicate his throne to his son, Naruhito (no connection to Naruto!), marking the change to the Reiwa Era. Normally, emperors are constitutionally bound to rule until death. This relatively new rule was stipulated in the Meiji era constitution (1889) and has not changed since. Before this, emperors were allowed to abdicate and regularly did so given that and his health issues and age (85 and still attending ceremonies and events!), it’s no wonder that the government agreed to let Emperor Akihito spend his remaining years enjoying some peace.
Naruhito, the new emperor will only have 3 heirs. This is a topic of some weight since it could bring an end to the longest continually ruling imperial line. The line stretches back over 2600 years (give or take a few questionable relations), and the government is seriously dragging its heels in regards to doing anything about preserving it.
There are two reasons why this is happening. Firstly, any women who marry outside of the royal line lose their royal status and any male children are not eligible for the title. And secondly, since Japan is one of the bottom ranked countries in the world for gender equality, they naturally don’t allow women to sit the throne. The last female emperor reigned until 1771 and continued on as an advisor after that.
The Heisei era was certainly a period in which baby steps were made towards gender equality in Japan, but it will be a long time before any real progress may be seen. The government was asked to consider methods of growing the royal line such as allowing women to keep their royal status after marrying outside, but moves have yet to be made.
Many website and surveys are looking at the Heisei era as a mixed bag. Economic struggle, but peace and forward thinking. What are your thoughts on the past 30 years? Did you experience any of it in Japan? Start a discussion with us below or on our social media!