Japan is about to start a new imperial era on May 1, when Emperor Akihito will step down from the monarchy, ending the 200-years-long era “Heisie” – and Crown Prince Naruhito will become new Japanese Emperor to start the country’s new imperial era “Reiwa”.

As Japan gets ready to witness a historic turning point, Tokyo’s roads stopped for a brief moment to watch the declaration of the name of their new imperial era starting from May 1, 2019. Ending the anticipation over new era name, or “gengo”, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga raised a white placard that read “Reiwa” written in black ink – a word fetched from the 7th century poetry collection “Manyoshu”. Suga also mentioned that the meaning and significance of the word will soon be explained by PM Abe Shinzo, who emphasises the traditional values at a turning point in Japan’s history.

On April 30, Emperor Akihito will step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne, ending the Heisei era, which began in 1989 and to become the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in 200 years. The throne will be taken over by Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1, and it will mark the beginning of the new imperial era Reiwa. The new era name is important for Japan as it will be used on coins, calendars, newspapers and in official paperwork; and to avoid any glitches, it was announced a month before it officially comes into effect.

This is the first time that the name of an era is picked from an ancient Japanese source – an anthology of poems called the Manyoshu instead of old Chinese texts. The poem from which the era name is picked is about spring, soft winds and blossoms and the world Reiwa pronounced as “ray-wa” is a gentle, peaceful name and signifies an era where people can “shine in a calm future”, as per locals. Speaking about the depth of the word, Makoto Ueno, a Manyoshu expert at Nara University, said the use of Japanese texts marked a significant change in Japan.