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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: News and Current Events in Japan, Season 1 - Lesson 19, Era Names
In Japan, a native era system is active along with the western one.
In this lesson, we'll learn about this system.

Lesson focus

The Japanese era system, also known as Gengō era system, began in 140 BC in China, during the Han Period, when Emperor Wudi was reigning. It spread later to the other Chinese dynasties, Korea, and Japan. Today though, it only remains in Japan.
In this age of globalization, it seems somewhat cumbersome to use both the Western calendar and the Gengō era system, so there are rumors of "abolishment of the Gengō," but there's not a big movement yet.
For Japanese people, when it comes to thinking about modern history, it’s more convenient to think in terms of the Gengō era, rather than the Christian era.
By the way, the beginning of the era in Japan goes back to the year 645, the year of "The Isshi incident."
This incident, famous in Japanese history, was a coup d'etat by the princes, who aimed to establish a centralized state with the emperor at its center. And a new era, called "Taika," was established as one of its political reforms.
Although the Gengō era system was enacted intermittently after the Taika era, it was established from the Taihō era in 701 and is currently used, in the Heisei era.
In the background of this system, there is the concept of the emperor dominating even time, and the right of establishing an era belonged to the emperor. Therefore, when a new emperor ascended the throne, or when good omens, natural disasters, or warfare occurred, the emperor could change the name of the era to drive calamities away and refresh the human spirit. That is why many eras were established under individual emperors.
After the Meiji era, the "each emperor is one era" system was adopted, by which an era’s name is used until the emperor’s death. So, though the emperor used to have absolute right to establish an era, now it is regulated by the "Era Name Law" that says the decision is up to the Cabinet.
The era always uses two characters from Chinese classics. For example, the current Heisei era is taken from two sentences, one from "The Historic Records" the other from "The Book of Documents." According to these two sentences, the name "Heisei" implies a wish that Japan and the whole world should become peaceful and happy.
The current emperor's abdication has been granted by a special law, and the Heisei era is now in its final stage. Regarding the next era, similar to the "Heisei" era, scholars and experts of Oriental History will make a plan and the final decision will be made by the Cabinet.


Those are the key facts about Japan’s era system.
If you want to find the related Japanese keywords, make sure to check out the lesson notes.
Okay, that’s all for this lesson. Thank you for listening everyone, and keep listening for more of the most talked about news stories in Japan!