The Heisei era started from 1989. I first came to Japan in 1992, so the Heisei era was already underway for a few years. But I have been in Japan for most of this era, so I was really feeling quite nostalgic as NHK was going back in time to recall all of the things that happened during the last 30 years.
There has, indeed, been many things to mark this era and it is a good time for us to take a moment and understand what the last 30 years meant. Internationally, there has been the removal of the Berlin wall, the Gulf War, the 9-11 attacks on America, the Lehman Brothers collapse, more wars in Afghanistan, the unreported atrocities all over Africa, the growing reality that our planet is heating up, and the growing and deepening of racial hatred in America manifesting itself in the election of the most unfit man in the nation to be its president. One might think that the entirety of the last 30 years has been dark. One might think that we are in such a dark hole we may never get out.
But Japan, within its own borders, has had some trying times as well. In 1995, two horrifying events occurred. The Doomsday Cult, the Aum Shinrikyo uses sarin gas to attack subways in Tokyo. The massive earthquake in the Hanshin region kills thousands and Kobe burns. The economy came to a grinding halt with the bursting of the bubble in 1997 as Yamaichi Securities and the Takushoku Bank collapse. In they year 2000 a volcano on Miyake Island erupts. From the year 2009, the population of Japan starts to drop, and has been shrinking ever since. In 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami pounds the Tohoku region, and thousands die. Mt. Ontake erupts, killing 58, reminding us again that Japan is so volatile and so easily batted to and fro by nature and the unforgiving elements.
But despite so many hard things to look at, there have been a lot of good things to happen too. The Heisei era is one that is marked by the absence of Japan being at war. 30 years of continual peace, despite the sabre rattling of some Asian neighbours, Japan has maintained its course of peace. That alone, considering so many provocations, is astonishing.
The nation itself is largely peaceful. People can go to school, or shop, or travel without the fear of being murdered. Neighbours, by and large, still look out for each other. Kids can walk to school, and don’t need to pass through metal detectors or be trained how to respond to “active shooters”. The middle class is still largely getting by, and while the bubble years have long since gone, unemployment is low, and people do not have to sleep in their cars or shelters. The concept of “working poor” is one not so keenly felt as it is in North America.
Of course there are challenges, and things could be better. With technology we have increased speed and access to information, but we are more and more isolated from one another. There are kids who do not get the interventions they need that live with abusive parents, and there are many things that still need fixing. But by and large, as far as eras go, this has been a good one.
The water is clean. The air is clean. The streets are clean. And people are kind. Heisei really has been an era of peace. And a new era, Reiwa, is full of possibility. I’m excited for the days, weeks, and this era to come.