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Gov't source admits Japanese literature expert Susumu Nakanishi proposed new era name

Susumu Nakanishi, professor emeritus in Japanese literature at Osaka Women's University, is seen during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Kyoto's Ukyo Ward, on July 20, 2018. (Mainichi/Shigeto Hanazawa)

TOKYO -- A government source has admitted that Japanese literature expert Susumu Nakanishi, professor emeritus in Japanese literature at Osaka Women's University, came up with the next era name of "Reiwa."

Yet Nakanishi declined to say whether he came up with Reiwa as a new era name candidate. "There's nothing I can tell you about that," Nakanishi, 89, told reporters in front of his home in Kyoto on April 2.

When asked to comment on the fact that Reiwa is the first Japanese era name derived from Japanese literature, Nakanishi said, "I think it was a good thing." Japanese era names have traditionally been cited from Chinese classics.

The five other new era name candidates presented to experts and Cabinet ministers on April 1 along with Reiwa were "Eiko," "Kyuka," "Koshi," "Banna," and "Banpo."

Japan will change the era name from the current Heisei to Reiwa on May 1 after Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Imperial Throne the following Day.

Three of the six candidates originated from Japanese classics. Reiwa comes from "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), the oldest anthology of Japanese waka poetry. Nakanishi is known as an expert on "Manyoshu."

According to those linked to the government, Eiko originates from "Records of Ancient Matters" (Kojiki), compiled in 712, while Koshi is derived from China's oldest poetry anthology, the "Classic of Poetry," as well as "The Chronicles of Japan" (Nihon Shoki), completed in 720.

The three others -- Kyuka, Banna and Banpo -- were derived from Chinese classics.

Besides Nakanishi, the national government officially commissioned other experts, including Tadahisa Ishikawa, 86, former president of Nishogakusha University, and On Ikeda, 87, University of Tokyo professor emeritus of Chinese history, to propose new era name candidates.

Ishikawa, specializing in Chinese literature, thought up Banna as a next era name candidate, according to those linked to the central government.

All Cabinet ministers left a final decision on the next era name up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a meeting early on April 1. The prime minister selected Reiwa, which was supported by the largest number of experts and others involved in the selection process.

At an extraordinary Cabinet meeting later on the day, the Abe Cabinet approved a decree to formalize Reiwa as the next era name.

In a TV Asahi program on April 1, Prime Minister Abe said, "All members (of a panel of experts on the selection of the new era name) expressed opinions in favor of selecting the next era name from among those derived from Japanese works. Many of them supported Reiwa."

In April 2004, the government had also unofficially asked Yoshihiko Ogura, 92, former president of Gakushuin University, specializing in Chinese history, to propose new era name candidates, and had collected his proposals. However, the government did not send a letter in March this year officially requesting Ogura to propose next era names. The six final era name candidates did not include one by Ogura.

(Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Kyoto Bureau, and Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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