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Scramble as new Japan era name unveiled

02 April 2019, MVT 11:33
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announces the new era name "Reiwa" duringa press coference at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on April 1,2019. - Japan announced its new imperial era, which will begin next month when Emperor Akihito abdicates, will be known as "Reiwa", a word that includes the character for "harmony". (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)
02 April 2019, MVT 11:33

At the Tokyo offices of a major calendar maker, executives and employees clustered around a television broke into applause as the country's next imperial era name was announced: Reiwa.

While the Gregorian calendar is in common use in Japan, the country's imperial era system is also widely used and the announcement has been closely watched.

And for Kunio Kowaguchi, president of the Todan calendar and diary manufacturer, the announcement was more than just symbolic: It kickstarts a frantic period churning out new products bearing the "Reiwa" name.

About 30 members of the company gathered around a television at the firm's Tokyo offices when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held up the traditional calligraphy revealing the new name.

"I like it, it's very good," Kowaguchi told AFP, pointing out that not many Japanese words begin with an 'r' sound.

"Reiwa sounds modern but when you see the characters, it's solemn," he added.

Composed of two kanji characters, ‘Rei’ which means beautiful, and ‘wa’ which means harmony, ‘Reiwa’ means that "culture will be nurtured as people bring their hearts together in a beautiful manner".

As soon as the two-character name was announced, a Todan designer rushed to her computer to start preparing new layouts for products bearing "gengo" or imperial era dates.

Another employee started consulting digital dictionaries to determine the order in which the strokes of the two characters should be written.

That information was then passed on to a calligrapher who began carefully painting the two characters as Kowaguchi and others looked on.

The wet ink was hurriedly dried first with a traditional fan and then with a hair dryer to allow the characters to be scanned as quickly as possible.

- '50 kinds of calendars' -

The new era name has arrived too late for Todan's rollout of 2019 calendars but the company will now start work on 2020 products, as well as a special production of 800 desktop calendars that will run from May 2019 to March 2020.

For the year 2020, "we are talking about production plans for 50 kinds of calendars with gengo," Kowaguchi told AFP.

"Plus the special edition for the first year of the new era."

Japan is the only country in the world still using Chinese-style imperial calendars, and many people still remember historic events by the era year they occurred rather than the corresponding Gregorian date.

So it wasn't just calendar makers firing up the printing presses on Monday, with Japan's newspapers quickly issuing special editions that prompted stampedes in parts of central Tokyo.

At Todan's factory in the town of Ami, 70 kilometres (40 miles) east of Tokyo, 70 workers had their own excited gathering at the firm's canteen to watch the era announcement.

"We have all been working together in the past two years (since the abdication was announced) and I was filled with a sense of relief when I heard the name being announced," factory chief Junichi Ishii told AFP.

"At the moment of the announcement, we all applauded," he added.

There wasn't much time to savour the moment though, with the factory springing straight into action to begin producing the special edition desktop calendars.

Workers manned machines in rooms for printing, cutting and assembling the calendars that feature the name "Reiwa" prominently on their cover page.

The large machines responsible for printing the calendars roared and churned out large sheets printed with multiple months, each of which was cut out and then assembled by hand into a calendar.

The calendars will be shipped immediately, and company president Kowaguchi said the initial plans for a run of 800 copies might prove insufficient.

"We planned this as something that customers would keep as a commemorative product. We thought this wouldn't be something that should be produced in a large volume," he said.

But, he added, "we are receiving a flood of inquiries. Now I'm concerned that printing just 800 may leave some customers disappointed."

Ami, Japan | AFP

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