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Japan's Reiwa era

Japan’s Reiwa frenzy picks up as businesses get ready for new era

Retailers are starting Reiwa-themed campaigns and introducing new projects

Fairycake Fair, a bakery in Tokyo Station, helps Japan usher in the coming Imperial era with a bit of celebratory icing on the cake.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan discovered on April 1 the new era beginning on May 1 will be called Reiwa, and businesses wasted no time in responding.

Unlike the somber national mood that prevailed during the transition to the present Heisei era after the death of the Emperor Showa (Hirohito), the new era is being welcomed with a celebratory atmosphere. Businesses are launching new products and sales campaigns to commemorate the occasion.

The announcement also piqued interest in the "Manyoshu," the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry, and the origin of the term "Reiwa."

The "Manyoshu" has about 4,500 poems, written between 600 and 759, in 20 volumes. Reiwa was derived from a preface to 32 poems read during a party held amid plum blossoms, contained in the fifth volume.

Visitors look at a display re-creating a historic party of poets at Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on April 2. The characters for the new era's name were taken from the preface to the 32 poems read at the party.

The party is said to have been held in the spring of 730 at poet Otomo no Tabito's home in modern Fukuoka Prefecture in southwest Japan. A local museum with an exhibit recreating the party opened earlier than usual on April 2. A 72-year-old visitor said he came to find out more about the origin of the name of the new era.

A Tokyo bookstore on April 2 set up a section featuring the "Manyoshu," including a book that translates it into modern Japanese. A publisher has decided to print more copies in response to a surge in orders from retailers.

"The 'Manyoshu' is the origin of Japanese literature," said Makoto Ueno, a professor at Nara University. "It is filled with poems about people, who don't change through the ages, and their compassion and kindness."

"I hope the new era name will lead more people to get to know it," he added.

The Jinbocho Book Center in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward is responding to sudden demand for modern translations of the 4,500 or so poems from the seventh and eighth centuries that inspired the name of Japan's next Imperial era.

Other businesses are taking advantage of the event. Department store Takashimaya plans to introduce baby wear and solid-gold medals engraved with the characters for Heisei and Reiwa. Sogo & Seibu, another department store chain, will hand out commemorative red-bean pancakes to customers, starting April 27. They will be branded "Heisei" until April 30, and "Reiwa" from May 1.

In Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district, customers lined up to buy artisanal candies with Reiwa written on them.

Retailers are planning sales to coincide with the name change. "I hope that the change in era will change consumers' mindset and stimulate spending," said Tsuneyoshi Kitajima, president of casual apparel store Shimamura.

TIS, a system developer for banks, insurers and local governments, started reprogramming computer systems for the first year of Reiwa. The company knew the era name would change in advance, so it has been able to prepare for the switch, a company representative said.

Amid the nationwide frenzy, the police are warning people to watch out for scams. A woman in her 80s was swindled out of 1 million yen ($9,000) after she was told she had to update her financial information by con artists posing as city officials and bank employees.

Mobile phone operators NTT Docomo and SoftBank confirmed that customers have received emails directing them to fake websites advertising new rate plans and campaigns.

Children use brushes and ink to write "Reiwa" in Tokyo's Ome on April 2.

At the Cabinet meeting on April 2, the government approved policies for handling official documents, such as driver's licenses, and ensuring a smooth transition to the new era.

Until April 30, documents will use "Heisei." They will remain valid even after May 1, and will not be rewritten to say "Reiwa." A notice will be attached to prevent confusion. Documents created after May 1 will use "Reiwa."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on April 2 said the government will ensure that ministries communicate closely with each other, and that the necessary information is provided to local governments to update their information systems.

"In Japan, a unique culture has developed over thousands of years," Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said on Tuesday, when asked about the fact that the new name's characters were for the first time taken from Japanese literature, rather than Chinese classics. "It's very significant that they came from a national text."

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