If you read about Japanese history, you will notice time periods are separated into a number of different eras. But what do these era titles mean for Japanese people? Meiji. Taisho. Heisei. These eras denote the reign of a particular emperor over Japanese society.
On May 1st, Japan entered a new era: denoted by the name Reiwa. It was big news for people living in Japan, with commentary and speculation about the new era in every form of media. But, does this change of era really mean anything to Japanese society?
Japanese era designation started in the 700s, and Reiwa will be the 248th of these eras. Whenever a new emperor is crowned (usually when the previous emperor dies), the era changes. This can be a bittersweet occasion because people are in mourning for the previous emperor, while also welcoming the new one. This year’s change of era was different than most previous changes. The previous emperor decided to abdicate three years ago, and the citizens knew that new era was coming.
For Japanese people, it was a purely happy celebration of welcoming the new emperor; a fresh start to a new generation. On TV, there were shows about what people did on the first day of Reiwa, or what their resolution is for the Reiwa Era, similar to New Year’s Day.
For non-Japanese, does the word “Reiwa” conjure any specific image?
On the day of the announcement of the new era’s name, the government representative announced Reiwa with these Kanji characters:
As the news was livestreaming on TV, many comments were posted on social media. For example: “I can imagine peace, it sounds very calm.” On the other hand, there were also comments like: “It feels negative, I can imagine coldness.”
People are reading the same Kanji character but the reactions are different. Why would this happen?
Kanji characters carry distinct meanings, and people visualize those meanings when they read Kanji. This is tricky, because one Kanji character has not only one meaning, but various meanings. This is one reason people had different reactions when they read 令和on the news.
Let’s take a look at each Kanji character:
令(Rei) has mainly four meanings. 1. High standing 2. Order 3. Head of a group 4.law
和（wa）has mainly five meanings. 1. Peace 2. Calm 3. Mix 4.Getting along 5.Addition
So one reading of 令和（Reiwa） can be: “Creating Japan together with a peaceful heart.” This is the definition of Reiwa that the government gave along with their announcement.
Era names are a good way to learn about Japanese history and culture, because people picked the name of the era according to their lives at that time; their hopes for the new era, new generation, new stage of history.
Before Reiwa, the era name was 平成(Heisei). Heisei was named following Japan’s huge post-war economic growth. People were hoping for peaceful growth for Japan, and 平（hei）means calm and peace, while 成（sei） means growth.
So by looking at the era name, you can actually understand people’s mindsets during a certain moment in Japanese history.
However, Kanji characters can symbolize much more than just eras in history. For example, you can choose Kanji that represent your close friends and family.
To give an example from my life, my husband is a very generous man. He loves to serve others and will sacrifice himself to show love without hesitation.
So if I were to pick a Kanji for him, I would pick 愛（ai）. Ai means to love another.
If it was my father, I would pick him 大（dai）. Dai means big.
My image of my father is always spreading his arms wide open and ready to take care of whatever needs to be done, supporting his family no matter what circumstances we are in.
If you were to pick one for your loved ones, what meaning would you want?
If you have any meaning in mind and would like to know the character that matches it, message us and we will get back with you with the perfectly matched Kanji.
You can also search for the proper Kanji on the internet. For example, if you search for “love Kanji” it will give you 愛（ai ）.
I think a shirt or a sweater with your chosen Kanji character will be a great present with a lot of meaning!