Era, thy name is Seika

Countdown to the first day of the Heisei Era – night of 07-08 January 1989

Twenty years ago to this day, on 08 January 1989, the Showa Era passed into history and the Heisei Era began. The Showa Emperor had died the day before and his son Akihito was now reigning, and in accordance with tradition a new era name was chosen to mark the transition to a new occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Announcement of the Showa Emperor’s death, followed by the unveiling of the new era name – 07 January 1989

(Note: Another version of the same video – with a running commentary/voice-over in English – is available here. I would recommend watching the original version before the English version, since the announcement of the new era name comes off a little more dramatically without the English-language script overlaid upon it.)

Now this anniversary would have passed quietly without any comment from me, were it not for an interesting piece of information that I picked up this morning on my usual visit to the Mainichi Daily News website.

Apparently, the selection of the new era name wasn’t as straightforward a decision as I had originally thought. In addition to Heisei (平成), two other names were considered: Shuubun (修文) and Seika (正化). All three names were said to represent “peace”. In the end, says the Mainichi Daily News, Heisei was chosen because it was “the easiest and most straightforward” – although I’m not sure I agree since the kanji of Seika seem easier to write and pronounce. In any case, the Heisei Era article on the Japanese-language Wikipedia clears the matter up somewhat: apparently the other names were passed over partly because their romanised equivalents start with the letter “S”, same as the outgoing era name of Showa. I don’t know whether this is true or not – and as always, readers more fluent in Japanese than I am are more than welcome to sift through all the available information (archived news reports may be a good place to start) and confirm or refute this.

Okay, so that’s all very interesting, but I still would have dismissed the anniversary as un-blog-worthy if I’d failed to make the next, vital connection. While reading the first line of the article, I remembered that in the 2008 animated series Toshokan Sensou, the fictional name for the current era (within the context of the anime’s storyline) was Seika (正化). I then learned from the Wikipedia article linked above that the fictional Seika Era started in 1989, the same year in which the Heisei Era began. I suppose this is already common knowledge among Toshokan Sensou junkies, but I’m not a die-hard fan and I never bothered to dig into the original light novel series or any other source material; hence, I was completely unaware that the author used a candidate name for the Heisei Era in her alternate timeline, instead of making something up from scratch (which actually sounds less creative).

Hats off to you, Arikawa Hiro-sensei. I managed to stave off boredom for half an hour thanks to your brilliant choice of an era name.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for this explanation, Diego 🙂 It is good to know the origin of the era 🙂

  2. Wow, never knew that. Parallel universes, anybody?

  3. anime is serious business… and very educational too 🙂

  4. @Kitsune: Some might argue that this is just a piece of useless trivia, and maybe they’re right – but I had fun digging it out and that’s what counts. Never mind that knowing the origins of the Seika Era won’t save the world. 😉

    @Zeroblade: The use of Seika works in the author’s favour in that respect. Using a name that could have conceivably become the current nengou makes the idea of a parallel universe all the more credible.

    @Legionarion Conquistadorz: Under the right conditions, anime could be a great learning tool (not that we can count on any Ministry of Education taking that line!). One moment I was reading a header article on the Mainichi’s website, the next moment I was scratching my head thinking “Where have I heard the word Seika before?”. And before you know it, I’m off on a detective’s quest to dig out the facts. Of course, for as long as the emphasis is on sad girls in snow, buxom ladies and sword-induced decapitations anime’s appeal to parents as an instrument for education will remain very limited. 😉

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