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Japan's Reiwa era

Imperial eras still resonate in Japan despite Western calendar

Companies race to prepare for May 1 start of Reiwa era

The name of the new Imperial era, Reiwa, as written by a calligrapher on behalf of a calendar maker.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Even as globalization pushes Japan toward the Western calendar, many Japanese still support the parallel use of Imperial eras as they have come to define the periods people have lived in.

Japan has picked Reiwa as the name of the era that starts on May 1 under a new emperor. While the huge volumes of goods and information crossing borders have made the shift to the Western calendar inevitable, experts predict people will continue to use Imperial era years to preserve a Japanese tradition.

In a Cross Marketing survey of 3,000 people aged 20 through 79 conducted in November, only 17.7% of respondents said they mostly use Imperial era years, while 41.5% said they mostly use Western calendar years.

The change has reached the public sector as well. Although government documents mostly use Imperial era years, driver's licenses started listing Western calendar years as well from March of this year.

Mizuho Bank, a unit of Mizuho Financial Group, also switched to the Western calendar for bankbooks as part of a system upgrade.

But the current emperor's scheduled abdication has allowed the unveiling of the new era's name one month ahead of its start, generating unprecedented interest among the public. Numerous contests were held online to predict the name.

Imperial eras have found traction among young people in particular. Cross Marketing, a unit of Cross Marketing Group, found that 18.8% of respondents in their 20s use mainly the Imperial calendar -- the most of any age group. This demographic was also the most conscious of the Heisei era's end, at 40.1%. Unlike their Showa-born counterparts, 20-somethings appear to hold a special affection for the Heisei era as a symbol of their generation.

"Era names will probably continue to be used as a way for people to feel that they are Japanese, similarly to how people want to wear kimonos or speak beautiful Japanese," said Masahiro Abe, a sociology professor at Konan University.

Meanwhile, public agencies and companies are rushing to make the switch before the start of the Reiwa era on May 1. In addition to reconfiguring systems and ordering new stamps to put the new name on documents, businesses are also coming up with new products and services to cash in on the celebratory mood.

Nippon Travel Agency has chartered a train on the Sanyo bullet train line from Osaka to Kyushu to give out commemorative tickets with "Heisei" on one side and "Reiwa" on the other.

Many couples are planning their weddings for May 1. Venue provider Take and Give Needs said half of its wedding customers cited the new era as the reason for their reservation date. Bridal company Escrit's ceremony package has also proved popular for early May, with reservations up 20% from typical years.

Amazon Japan will also kick off a sale in mid-April. It is expected to create a special page for products bearing the new and old eras' names. Asked the impact of the changeover on corporate activity, 12.8% of survey respondents said it would be negative, outnumbering the 5.3% predicting positive effects, according to Teikoku Databank. The financial sector is particularly concerned about preparations for the switch.

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