May 02, 2019

Happy Reiwa 1!

Japan's first imperial succession from a living emperor in more than two centuries made for a uniquely celebratory atmosphere. In Japan, midnight on April 30 was like New Year's Eve at Times Square. A countdown, fireworks, and great good cheer.

The new era has arrived!

I was working in Japan in January 1989. The mood was gray and somber. Emperor Hirohito had been on his death bed for months. The press macabrely reported every blood transfusion he received. A lot of blood transfusions. Happy times it was not.

The reign of Emperor Akihito commenced on 8 January 1989 and ended on 30 April 2019 in the year Heisei 31. On 1 May 2019, Crown Prince Naruhito inherited the Imperial Regalia and the Office of Emperor, marking the start of the Reiwa era.

Naruhito is Japan's fifth emperor since the 1868 Meiji Restoration moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and restored de jure imperial rule. He is the 126th emperor of Japan, the oldest continuous and hereditary monarchy in the world.

Granted, beginning with Emperor Jimmu (reigned 660–585 BC), a "direct descendant" of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the first nine emperors are "presumed legendary." Emperor Kinmei (reigned 539–571 AD) was the first with "historical verifiability."

Mutsuhito (1867) Meiji era
Yoshihito (1912) Taisho era
Hirohito (1926) Showa era
Akihito (1989) Heisei era
Naruhito (2019) Reiwa era

In Japanese, an emperor's given name is not used in public. As a result, imperial references differ depending on whether you are, for example, watching NHK in Japanese or English. In English, Emperor Naruhito is referred to as "Emperor Naruhito."

In Japanese, while alive, the emperor is "Tennou Heika (天皇陛下) or "His Imperial Majesty the Emperor." Emperor Akihito is now Joukou (上皇) or "Emperor Emeritus." Posthumously, an emperor is referred to by his era name.

As with the several months that elapse between the election an American president and the inauguration, the formal enthronement ceremony is scheduled for October. If you're the head of state of a country with formal diplomatic relations with Japan, you're invited.

Since the Meiji era, (male) Japanese politicians have worn the English morning coat on formal occasions.


In a historical first, Satsuki Katayama, a member of Prime Minister Abe's cabinet, became the first woman to attend an enthronement ceremony. She wore a kimono.

Related posts

The last year of Heisei
The name of the new era

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