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Skilled sea lion writes new era name in calligraphy soon after announcement

Grill the sea lion holds a calligraphy brush in her mouth after writing the name of the new era, Reiwa, pictured at rear, at Izu-Mito Sea Paradise in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on the afternoon of April 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Ishikawa)

NUMAZU, Shizuoka -- A sea lion at an aquarium in the city of Numazu southeast of Tokyo has made a splash by writing the name of Japan's next era in Chinese characters with a calligraphy brush just roughly 20 minutes after it was announced.

The 19-year-old female California sea lion named Grill wrote the characters for the era name "Reiwa" in a noon show on April 1 at Izu-Mito Sea Paradise. The name of the new era, which will take effect on May 1, was announced by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga only about 20 minutes before the show began.

Grill has been performing calligraphy shows for 17 years, and is the only sea lion at the aquarium that is able to hold a brush in its mouth and write without human help.

Before the announcement, staff had had the sea lion practice writing several Chinese characters, or kanji, including the character for "wa," that was part of the new era name, but it was the first time for the seal to write the character for "rei."

After writing the characters, Grill dipped her nose in red ink and pressed her official "seal" next to them.

Among the spectators on April 1 was 8-year-old Sho Katsunaga.

"It's amazing that she could write the name when it was decided today," he said.

The sea lion's trainer, 25-year-old Misaki Shirakura, commented, "The practice bore results. She's putting in an effort to write the characters, so I'd like people to come and see them. I hope that Reiwa will be an era in which the animal can live in peace."

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.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Ishikawa, Mainichi Shimbun)

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