Today, the Japanese government announced the name of the new imperial era: Reiwa (令和). It will replace Heisei, the name of the current imperial era.
Heisei (平成) literally means “become peace,” and the era began in 1989 when the current Emperor took to the throne. Thus, the year Heisei 1 is 1989, Heisei 2 is 1990, and Heisei 3 1991 and so on.
The era prior was called Showa, and dates from 1926–1989. Showa (昭和) literally means “shining Japan.”
The country’s history is divided up into a series of eras. For example, the era before Showa was the Taisho Period (1912–1926) and before that was the Meiji Period (1868–1912), which each marking the rule of a different emperor.
This Japanese imperial system is used throughout the country on official documents as well as in daily life. This can be confusing for foreigners and can make year-conversion tricky even for Japanese people.
Naturally, each era is defined by its events, culture, thought and fashion. Today, when stuff looks retro in Japan, people often it as “Showa-poi” or “Showa-like.” As time passes, the same will be said of Heisei buildings, culture and fashion.
For example, while the early Showa Period was ravaged by war, Osaka’s Tower of the Sun and the Famicom became emblematic of the late Showa Era.
The current Heisei Period will end on April 30, 2019 (or Heisei 31) when Emperor Akihito abdicates the throne, and the Reiwa Era is expected to start on May 1. Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to be enthroned this October.
Only time will tell what will define the new era for future generations.