The era of orderly peace could have been the era of vast glory instead.
Next month, Japan’s Emperor Akihito is scheduled to relinquish his position to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. As is tradition in Japan, the reign of a new emperor is accompanied by a new era name, and so on May 1 the Heisei period will end, and the new era, called Reiwa, will begin.
The Japanese government announced the new era name on the morning of April 1. Taken from the Manyoshu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, Reiwa is written in Japanese as 令和, composed of the kanji characters for “order/orderly” and “peace/harmony.”
However, Reiwa wasn’t the only candidate for the new era’s name. Roughly two months ago, a panel of scholars and the prime minister’s cabinet began paring down the list of potential names, and as recently as a week ago there were still six possibilities (including Reiwa) they were looking at. Four more of the final six have now been leaked, so let’s take a look at the era names we almost got before the panel settled on Reiwa.
英 has a number of meanings, including “beautiful,” “glorious,” and even “flower.” 弘, meanwhile, means “wide” or “vast,” which would have made the purported hope that the Eiko period would be one of “vast glory.”
In the Japanese language, most kanji can be pronounced in more than one way, and Eiko is the only one of the rejected candidates for which the specified pronunciation was also leaked. But whether this second candidate was meant to be read as Banwa or Banna, its first kanji, 万, literally means “10,000,” but is also used to signify “great,” “complete,” or “encompassing.” 和, meanwhile, is the same 和 that shows up as the second kanji of Reiwa, making Banwa/Banna “great peace” or “perfect harmony.”
万 shows up once again, this time paired with 保, which means “preservation” or “security,” for an air of “great security” or “complete safety.”