Japan's new imperial era name to be 'Reiwa'

News comes as the current "Heisei" era draws to a close after three decades, with Emperor Akihito set to step down in April

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga unveils the name of new era "Reiwa" on Monday.

Japan’s government drew from a nearly 1,300-year-old poem, one of the earliest in the Japanese language, in choosing the name of the new imperial era starting 1 May when Crown Prince Naruhito takes the throne from his father Emperor Akihito. Despite being an old tradition, for the Japanese each era's naming is still significant as it aims to set the tone for the upcoming decades.

The so-called ''gengo" is also still used frequently, including on newspapers, coins and official documents like driving licenses. Under the system, 2019 is known as Heisei 31, or the 31st year of Akihito's reign.

The term for the new era was picked from a selection drawn up by a panel of scholars and experts and was chosen after many top-secret cabinet discussions. According to Japan Times it is made up of the two kanji characters Rei and Wa, meaning "order", and "peace" or "harmony". The new "gengo" also marks a break from the tradition, because it is taken from an old anthology of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu, instead of a Chinese one. But as Prime Minister Shindzo Abe said, the Manyoshu symbolises Japan's "profound public culture and long tradition", which needs to be preserved.

"Our nation is facing up to a big turning point, but there are lots of Japanese values that shouldn't fade away," he told reporters.

There have been only four eras in Japan's modern history. The current "Heisei" era, which means "achieving peace," draws to a close after three decades, with Emperor Akihito set to step down on April 30 in the first abdication of the throne in over 200 years. It was preceded by the Showa era (1926-1989), which can be translated as "enlightened harmony." Before that, the Taisho era (1912-1926) meant "great righteousness", while the Meiji gengo (1868-1912) meant "enlightened rule" in English.

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