So, now we are in a new era. Reiwa. The two kanji chosen are “rei” and “wa”. The “rei” part of the kanji is easily searchable in the dictionary and is on one level translated as “command” or “order”. Students of the Japanese language will recognize it from 命令 which means “to order” (meirei).
The “wa” is the character for “peace” or “harmony” or “Japanese”. The character is used in words like 和服 (Japanese clothing), and spoken as “wafuku”. Or as 和牛 which is “wagyu”, that delicious Japanese beef you sometimes hear about. It is also used in words like 平和 which means “peace” and said as “heiwa”.
The combination of the two characters together is not easily translated as “commanded peace”. That sounds a bit too brittle and was not the intention, as explained as to why these two characters were chosen.
The “Rei” is best translated, as it was derived from the Man’yōshū, as the “auspicious energy carried on the wind from plum blossoms”. Initially there was some confusion, particularly as both characters are used in everyday Japanese, but when put in the context of the literature from which it comes, “Reiwa” is a sound that brings in a new energy, vibrancy, rooted in Japanese tradition, and maintains peace and harmony.
I don’t know about you, but I like it.
Reuters has a good article on the subject here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-emperor-calendar/whats-in-a-name-japan-puzzles-over-reiwa-the-term-for-new-imperial-era-idUSKCN1RE0KW
Wikipedia is also swift to move in with its explanation of what “Reiwa” is supposed to mean. A very clear write up is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reiwa
What is quite interesting is that the name is taken from classic Japanese literature (the Man’yōshū), and not from classic Chinese literature, which had been the custom up to now.
We are now at the very beginning of the Reiwa era, and I am very curious and optimistic for good things to come.
Wishing you all the best this era!