Updating software program, shaping historical past: New imperial period identify looms massive in Japan


TOKYO (Reuters) – In Japan, each emperor’s period has its personal identify – showing in locations resembling cash, official paperwork and newspapers – and with abdication coming on the finish of April, hypothesis is swirling about what the brand new “gengo” might be.

Japan’s Chief Cupboard Secretary Keizo Obuchi unveils the brand new period identify ‘Heisei’ at a information convention in Tokyo, Japan, January 7, 1989, on this picture taken by Kyodo. Necessary credit score Kyodo/by way of REUTERS

Though the Western calendar has develop into extra widespread in Japan, many individuals right here rely years when it comes to gengo or use the 2 techniques interchangeably. Emperor Akihito’s period, which started in 1989, is Heisei, making 2019 Heisei 31.

The brand new period identify is one in every of largest modifications – virtually and psychologically – for Japan at first of Crown Prince Naruhito’s reign on Could 1. On April 30, Akihito will abdicate, ending an period within the minds of many Japanese.

The brand new identify is so secret that senior authorities officers concerned within the resolution should give up their cell telephones and keep sequestered till it’s broadcast, media studies say.

Metropolis places of work and authorities businesses, which principally use gengo of their laptop techniques and paperwork, have been getting ready for months to keep away from glitches.

To make the transition simpler, authorities will announce the brand new gengo — two Chinese language characters the cupboard chooses from a brief listing proposed by students – a month early, on April 1.

“We’ve been engaged on this alteration for a few 12 months,” stated Tsukasa Shizume, an official within the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, the place the period identify might be modified on 55 sorts of paperwork in 20 administrative sections. The month-long lead time ought to be ample, he stated.

Fujitsu and NEC Corp. have been serving to clients make sure the change doesn’t crash their techniques. Packages have been designed to make it simple to vary the gengo, stated Shunichi Ueda, an NEC official.

“If folks wish to check their laptop techniques, they’ll use a trial gengo and see if it really works,” he stated.

Most main firms use the Western calendar of their laptop techniques, so it gained’t have an effect on them as a lot, though smaller firms may run into some issues, he stated.

In Tokyo’s Minato ward, officers will cross out Heisei on hundreds of paperwork and stamp the brand new gengo above it.


The period identify is greater than only a approach of counting years for a lot of Japanese.

It’s a phrase that captures the nationwide temper of a interval, just like the best way “the ‘60s” evokes specific emotions or photos, or how historians seek advice from Britain’s “Victorian” or “Edwardian” eras, tying the politics and tradition of a interval to a monarch.

“It’s a approach of dividing historical past,” stated Jun Iijima, a 31-year-old lawyer who was born the final 12 months of Showa, the period of Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito. “For those who have been simply counting years, the Western system may be ample. However gengo offers a sure that means to a historic interval.”

The 64-year Showa period, which lasted till 1989, has usually come to be recognized with Japan’s restoration and rising international prominence within the a long time after World Struggle Two.

The imperial period identify can also be a type of “delicate nationalism,” stated Ken Ruoff, director of the Heart for Japanese Research at Portland State College.

“It’s one in every of these fixed low-level reminders that Japan counts years in another way and Japan has a monarchy,” he stated.

The gengo characters are rigorously chosen with an aspirational that means. Heisei, which implies “reaching peace,” started on Jan. eight, 1989, amid excessive hopes that Japan would play a better position in international affairs after a long time of sturdy financial development.

Quickly afterward, Japan’s financial bubble popped, ushering in an extended interval of stagnation and deflation. The rise of China and South Korea diminished Japan’s worldwide prominence, and a sequence of disasters – together with the 1995 Kobe earthquake and 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crises – has marred Heisei’s picture.


In day by day life, utilization of the gengo system is slowly declining as Japan integrates into the worldwide financial system.

A latest Mainichi newspaper survey confirmed that 34 p.c of individuals stated they used principally gengo, 34 p.c stated they used each about the identical, and 25 p.c primarily the Western calendar. In 1975, 82 p.c stated principally gengo. Each calendars use Western months.

Japanese drivers licenses have began to print each dates, as an alternative of simply gengo.

Iijima, the lawyer, says authorized paperwork makes use of the period identify as a result of that’s what the courtroom system makes use of. However in day by day life he makes use of each. For international occasions, he thinks when it comes to the Western calendar – just like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist assaults – and makes use of each courting techniques for home occasions.

He’s detached about what characters might be chosen for the following gengo.

However remembering that his grandparents suffered throughout World Struggle Two, he hopes that it is going to be an period with out conflict, that Japan will sustain economically with China and India and that it’s going to develop right into a “mature,” extra tolerant place.

“I hope Japan can develop into a society the place minorities can stay extra simply,” he stated.

Reporting and writing by Malcolm Foster; further reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Modifying by Gerry Doyle