Celebrations and challenges in welcoming the new era
Backstories

Celebrations and challenges in welcoming the new era

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    The new era, Reiwa, will begin with the new Emperor's accession on May 1. For people across Japan, the shift to the Reiwa era symbolizes an exciting new beginning. For businesses, it also means opportunities along with some challenges.

    The newest gengo, Reiwa, was taken from the Manyoshu, the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the name represents the hope that every Japanese person will achieve their aspirations just like a plum flower blooming after a severe winter.

    People at Shinbashi Station in Tokyo commented on the new era name.
    A 24-year-old man said he's pleased that the name includes the kanji character "wa," which is part of his own name. He noted that he was born in the Heisei era, and he hopes the next era will be another good one. A 50-year-old man said he's surprised that the new era name includes the kanji "wa," which was used in Showa, the era that preceded Heisei.

    In Fukushima, which was severely affected by the 2011 earthquake, the choice is being welcomed. A woman said she hopes the new era will be calm and peaceful, and that no one will suffer from disaster.

    More than 100 people watched the announcement of the new era name, Reiwa, on a giant screen near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.

    While people are celebrating, many companies are hard at work. They're busy using the historic event to drive up sales.

    Daito, a manufacturer of sweet-bean cakes in Tokyo, saw a big opportunity. The firm managed to design and produce commemorative wrapping and get its product, with the new packaging, onto store shelves within a day.

    The minute the name was revealed, staff rushed into action. They put the kanji characters for "Reiwa" in their new packaging design and sent it off to a printing company 30 minutes after the announcement. As soon as it was finished, the workers used it to wrap boxes of cakes by hand. Just four hours later, about 100 boxes were on sale at the store. They sold out in two hours.

    The company president, Tomofumi Okubo, said he was relieved that they did it in time, and their hard work was worth it.

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    The change in era is also bringing challenges. The era name is used on numerous occasions and in official documents including drivers' licenses, contract agreements, and in computer systems.

    Stamp makers in Tokyo began producing rubber stamps with the new era name soon after it was announced.

    Kippodo received about 600 orders for its stamps. The company president, Shigeo Kojima, says it will try to deliver the new stamps as soon as possible. The firm plans to send the stamps to companies, schools and other organizations after finishing production around Monday evening.

    Stamp makers are busy making products with the new era name.

    Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance uses era names in its system that stores 7 million insurance policies for individual clients.

    Engineers at the major life insurer have been preparing for the era name change set for May 1 using a tentative name, Ammyo, derived from the firm's name.

    The workers started to fine-tune its system immediately after the government announced the era name Reiwa on Monday morning. They replaced the fictitious name with the official one and changed the abbreviation from A for Ammyo to R for Reiwa.

    The company says it uses era names in documents sent to its clients. It plans to hold a final round of tests to see if its computer system displays Reiwa when clients choose a date that comes under the new era name.

    Yasuhito Uchiki, one of the engineers, says now that the new era name has been decided, they will conduct multiple checks, covering a wide range of computer programs. He says his team is determined to get the job done to prevent any problems.

    Companies across Japan began adjusting their computer system to reflect the new era name.

    The government announced the new era name in advance to give businesses and the general public time to prepare for the change. But according to a survey conducted by the industry ministry in February, 20 percent of more than 2,700 companies had yet to finish their work to see if their computer systems are affected by era names. The government calls on firms to prepare for the era name change to forestall any system glitches.