The Japanese government has chosen ‘Reiwa’ as the name for the era under a new emperor, which is due to begin on 1 May.
The new name replaces ‘Heisei’, which has been in place since January 1989. It marks the ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito. The incumbent Emperor Akihito announced his decision to abdicate late in 2017, and his reign ends on 30 April.
The character 'Rei' is drawn from Japan's oldest collection of poetry, which is a celebration of spring made up of poems by people from a range of social classes. In a live broadcast, prime minister Shinzo Abe said the characters refer to the culture created through "beautiful collaboration".
Choosing the name for an era is no straightforward task and typically takes months of discussion between government ministers, who go to great lengths to preserve secrecy. The Japanese media typically goes to similar lengths to try to uncover the new name ahead of time.
The change presents a challenge for businesses in that it requires a complete update of communication materials. The government’s announcement in advance of Naruhito’s ascension is reportedly to give companies time to prepare.
Speaking to Campaign in February, Natsumi Akita, vice-president of marketing for Adobe in Japan, said Adobe was using the transition as an opportunity to market its content management services to firms with a range of materials that are often managed by different vendors and in some cases only exist in paper format.
“Some companies have created a taskforce team to track down documents with the Heisei name,” she said.
At the same time, it’s a chance for brands to ride a wave of national interest. Sharp, for example, tweeeted a desire ahead of the announcement for the new name to begin with ‘A’. Upon learning the name, Sharp immediately voiced its disappointment, drawing responses such as ‘why don’t you change your name to Shrap?’
S— SHARP シャープ株式会社 (@SHARP_JP) April 1, 2019
A ← 期待
Meanwhile Calbee plans to sell limited-edition potato chips bearing the new name via the convenience store Lawson.
Many are likely to be glad of the change. Last week, a survey by Sumitomo Life Insurance found the character 'sai', which means 'disaster', was seen to best encapsulate the Heisei era.
Ryoko Tasaki contributed to this article.