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Docs show expert mulled over 20 era name candidates before 1989 adoption of Heisei

A handwritten memo left by the late professor emeritus Makoto Mekada of Kyushu University is seen in Onojo, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Mainichi/Takeshi Noda)

ONOJO, Fukuoka -- One of the experts who proposed era name candidates ahead of the change from Showa to Heisei in 1989 considered more than 20 possibilities including "Shubun," according to a memo left by the person.

"Shubun" was one of the final candidates in the government's deliberations on the issue. The handwritten memo was left by professor emeritus Makoto Mekada of Kyushu University, who passed away in 1994 at age 90. It was originally found by officials of the city of Onojo in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka, where he was living, around the fall of 2011. The officials were reviewing articles left by the specialist in Chinese classics, which his bereaved family was considering donating to the municipal government.

The memo is an important historical record about the process to select the era name Heisei, which the national government has not revealed so far. Japan uses the imperial era name system along with the Western calendar, and a new era name is adopted when a new emperor ascends to the throne. The next era name will be introduced in May when Crown Prince Naruhito inherits the throne from Emperor Akihito, who will abdicate at the end of April.

The officials cooperated with professor emeritus Noriyuki Takemura of Kyushu University, a Chinese literature specialist who was close to Mekada, to examine the memo, and concluded that the document was indeed written by Mekada.

The more than 20 names were written on nine letter and writing pad pages, including candidates that cannot be deciphered. Ten of the names -- Futoku, Seishi, Seiwa, Tensho, Shubun, Taiyu, Intoku, Shuwa, Kyomei and Keiji -- had references on their original texts, and appeared to be final candidates before submission to the government.

Mekada was a specialist of China's oldest poetry collection "Shijing," or the "Classic of Poetry," and four of the 10 names came from the particular anthology. Five were taken from the classic Chinese history book "Shujing," or the "Book of Documents," and one was sourced in the "I Ching," or the "Classic of Changes," an ancient Chinese text of divination. All of the books have served as sources for many era names, and it appears that Mekada made his selection from authoritative sources based on his specialty.

The memorandum in question is considered to have been written in around 1987 or 1988 as Mekada was asked to make his era name proposals following the death of a scholar who preceded him.

Professor emeritus Isao Tokoro of Kyoto Sangyo University commented, "It's extremely meaningful that a precious historic record in the private sector was found. This is a first-rate record that shows (Mekada's) screening process."

The Onojo Municipal Government will exhibit the newly found memo at the Onojo Cocoro-no-furusato-kan City Museum starting March 1.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Yamashita, Kyushu News Department, and Takenori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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