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News Navigator: Who comes up with Japan's era names?

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga raises a board bearing the new era name "Reiwa" during a press conference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on April 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

The Japanese government decided on April 1 that "Reiwa" will be the new era name set to be officially implemented on May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito succeeds to the Imperial Throne. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about how people are chosen to create era names and who they are.

Question: Who comes up with era names?

Answer: The government has a set policy on the series of procedures for selecting era names. Highly knowledgeable people are chosen by the prime minister and commissioned to think about possible names. Those commissioned are to submit two to five proposals each along with explanations, including the meaning behind the names and which literary works they derive from. The official name is finally decided after a government discussion based on those suggestions. In deciding the era name Reiwa, the government explained it has chosen renowned scholars specializing in Japanese literature, Chinese literature, Japanese history and Oriental history.

Q: What kinds of scholars are selected?

A: It is assumed that the government picks several people who have been recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit or have been head of an academy that is famous in relevant fields. However, the government has not announced who or how many people were chosen to provide candidate names in the selection process of the era names Reiwa and Heisei.

Q: Who devised era names in the past?

A: From the Heian period (794-1185) to the Meiji period (1868-1912), court nobles, including descendants of scholar and statesman Sugawara no Michizane, who held positions requiring education for generations, provided multiple candidate names when changing the era name. The Imperial Court narrowed them down to several shortlists and the emperor decided which one to adopt. In the past, a person who proposed the adopted era name advanced in their career. Prestigious families kept records on the details about the meanings and sources of the adopted as well as proposed names for the benefit of their descendants. In the case of the era name Meiji, the emperor chose the name and no discussions were held.

Q: Who devised the era names Taisho and Showa?

A: Government officials who had detailed knowledge on Confucianism and Chinese characters were instructed by the prime minister and others to think about possible names. The emperor was to decide the official name after the suggested names were taken into consideration by the Privy Council called "Sumitsuin," an advisory body to the emperor at the time. Masuzo Yoshida, who served as an editor at the then Imperial Household Ministry's library, proposed the era name Showa. He conducted a series of research and studies to confirm that the name had not been used in China or its surrounding countries as an era name and had never come up as a candidate name in Japan in the past. Yoshida was hired by great author and literary scholar Mori Ogai, who served as an executive of the Imperial Household Ministry.

(Japanese original by Imperial Succession Reporting Group)

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