My gym has a big sign up that advises us how many days are left in the Heisei era, which comes to an end April 30, when the current reign of Emperor Akihito passes to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. This is quite a rare situation, as the usual changing of imperial eras takes place on the death of the current Emperor, and a living emperor abdicating his position hasn’t happened in two centuries. But when Akihito made his strong desire to retire a few years ago, Japanese legislators grudgingly started work on creating a legal framework for the changeover to take place. The end of the Heisei era will be upon us soon.
Who the current Emperor of Japan is might sound trivial, but because the current year is expressed using the era name, it affects everyone on a daily basis. The current year is Heisei 31, the 31st year of the reign of Emperor Akihito. When you live in Japan long enough, you memorize all your important dates in the imperial era system. I was born in Showa 43, came to Japan in Heisei 3, and my kids were born in Heisei 7 and 8. J-List was founded in Heisei 8.
The imperial era changeover is causing some challenges for companies, including makers of accounting software, who will suddenly need to support the new era even we won’t know the name yet, creating Y2K like challenges. Another issue is that several national holidays will be added to the upcoming Golden Week block of holidays, resulting in a “Monster Golden Week” that’s a full ten days long. Having extra days off is good, but it puts some industries in a bind, including J-List. How will we restock our naughty products and delicious Japanese snacks? (Don’t worry, we’ll stock up ahead of time.)
The other big question is, what will the new imperial era be called? It’s literally a national secret at this point, guarded as closely as America’s nuclear codes, and won’t be known until it’s announced. The only thing we know is that it can’t start with H, S, T or M, since Heisei, Showa, Taisho and Meiji are already taken. Considering that the defining feature of Heisei — which means “having attained peace and maturity” though it could be creatively translated as “a flat and mature economy” — is three decades of zero economic growth over a period when the U.S. economy grew 400%, I’d love to see an imperial name that could give Japan some hope for a better economic future.
What do you think of the end of the Heisei Era, with it’s Tamagotchi, huge cell phones, nostalgic anime and silly fashion trends? Will you miss it, or are you excited about the future? Tell us on Twitter!
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