‘Reiwa’ Chosen as Name for Rule of New Japanese Emperor

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the highly anticipated name by holding up a board with the characters handwritten on it.

Japan's cabinet has selected the nation's 248th era name, part of a tradition dating back to the 7th century: "Reiwa".

A week ago, Suga told reporters that the names of academics and other experts who are advising the government will not be made public, nor will the person or persons who proposed the chosen name be revealed.

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TOKYO-Japan declared the name of its new imperial era when Crown Prince Naruhito becomes emperor on May 1, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying it emphasized traditional values at a turning point in the nation's history. His 85-year-old father, Emperor Akihito, will abdicate on April 30, ending the Heisei era, translated as "achieving peace".

Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the following day on 1 May.

The era, whose name includes the character for "harmony", will formally begin once the new Emperor is crowned on May 1.

Some on social media said the name had more authoritarian overtones, noting that the first character also means "order" or "command", and features in the Japanese words for official announcement and law.

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The new era name, known as gengo, has been hotly awaited in Japan as the Imperial calendar remains widely used on coins and in official documents such as driving licences as well as newspapers.

"The fact that it was taken from "Manyoshu" gives a feeling that a whole new age will be created for the Japanese people", said Hironobu Shoju, 30, who now works in Germany and is back in Japan for business.

Era names must normally consist of two kanji characters that are easy to read and write.

The announcement came a month early so government offices and companies can update computer software and make preparations to avoid glitches when the new era begins next month.

Last Wednesday, three people - a lawyer from Nagano Prefecture, a journalist from Tokyo and a company executive - filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court to seek suspension of the era name change.

The era saw the bursting of Japan's asset bubble and numerous natural disasters, including the March 2011 quake and tsunami that hit the northeast coast, prompted a nuclear disaster and left about 20,000 people dead or missing.

"Japan is entering a new era with its population rapidly ageing, and a bright future can only be secured if its people have their own ideas, individuality and strengths". In the past, emperors would change era names mid-reign to foster a spirit of renewal after natural disasters or crises, but more recently, a single era has been used to mark a monarch's entire reign and can also be applied posthumously. The government declined to name the selectors.

"Japanese society is no longer controlled by an emperor", said Hiroshi Kozen, a Chinese literature professor emeritus of Kyoto University and a member of the Japan Academy, an organization that recognizes eminent researchers.

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