From Showa to Heisei to Reiwa
And so, on that Saturday morning, for a brief moment, we were 'era-less'. There was a waiting period before the new name was announced, again on TV by then Cabinet Secretary Obuchi, who went on to later become Prime Minister (and who I got the chance to interview in 1985...as a keen student of politics). Heisei was to commence at midnight on 8 January and indeed, the next day many (myself included) went out to purchase a train ticket, not to use, but because it had the date stamp 1. 1. 8, the first year of the new era. These days, most people (including myself) have IC cards and probably haven't bought a train ticket in ten years or so. Still, I did go out and buy the papers (which I do anyway).
|The day's news|
But back to 1989, the death of Hirohito, and so the Showa era, which had straddled Japan's emergent Imperialism, its colonial period, World War Two and onto massive economic growth and development, was a time for much reflection on an era in two parts. There was much reflection on what was, and what was to come and much anticipation of the type of emperor Akihito would be.
Sensing the moment of history, my friends and I spent much of 7-8 January walking around Tokyo, taking in scenes at the Palace surrounds, the right wing conservatives, the general public, the black curtains drawn over shop windows (all faithfully recorded on film camera and photos, and stored in my archives at home). Similarly, the funeral procession through the streets of Tokyo a few weeks later garnered huge crowds lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the hearse taking the late Emperor, the man born a god but who died as a 'symbol' of the country, following defeat and demilitarisation and a new Constitution promulgated in 1947.
It took some months to recover from the extended period of 'restraint' leading up to the death of Hirohito and for things to 'return to normal'. Akihito vowed to be a symbol of the people and his personal experience of war, having been sent to the country to avoid the worst of it, has remained a part of his reign.
It is for another time and place to reflect on the Heisei period, so let's fast forward a bit to the point of this post, the transition this week to Reiwa.
|Midnight, let the new era begin|
So it has taken quite a while, from 2016, to now. It was announced that the naming of the new era (decided on by a committee of 'learned people') would be made public on 1 April 2019 (traditionally the start of the Japanese financial and academic year) but that the new era would not formally commence until 1 May 2019. As a result, all of April was spent talking about the 'last something or other of Heisei', something that couldn't have been uttered in 1988-89, when we were all supposed to be hoping for the emperor's health to recover...
Where 1989 had morbid constraint as its underlying (indeed, overlaying) atmosphere, 30 April to 1 May 2019 was, well, how were people going to deal with it? Abdication was unprecedented in living memory and the only reference point for those over thirty was ascension after death. It was a topic of discussion in the classroom and the corridors at work. My students were curious that I had been in Tokyo in 1989 but not so curious, for the most part, about moving from Heisei to Reiwa. I guess that's the difference a generation makes. Nonetheless, I've set them a reflection task for when we return to class later this week. Some of my younger colleagues were also quite intrigued I'd been around 'that long'...
|The new emperor receives the sacred treasures, |
no women present, no women allowed...
|Pictures from a live broadcast by NHK|
|And through the doors, to a new era|
I do hope, as someone from the same generation, that Masako-sama finds some solace in her new role, after years of private (and not so private) torment.
However, given my line of work, I have to say I’ve been fortunate to have been here in Tokyo for two changes of eras. It reminds me just how long I’ve been doing this gig.
To be continued...as reflections on the role of the monarchy on the one hand, and ongoing random thoughts on engaging with Japan, for thirty-five years, or thereabouts.