GFJ Commentary

June 10, 2019 

“Reiwa” as an Era of “Beautiful Harmony”

or “Order and Peace Under the Rule of Law”

By SHINODA Hideaki

Naming of the new imperial era in Japan has been much talked about. Little do I know of the origin of the meaning. Being a scholar of an international studies myself, I am, however, interested in how it is reported in overseas, though it seems there is not a consistency. It is obvious that ‘wa’ hails from ‘cho-wa (harmony)’ which is implicated in the word ‘hei-wa (peace).’ Then, ‘rei’ is left for interpretation. Prime Minister Abe expressed that “this name ‘reiwa’ includes the meaning of culture coming into being and flourishing when people bring their hearts and minds together in a beautiful manner.” That is that, and it is taken positively according to a public polls. Yet what exactly ‘rei’ means remains to be unclear. It has been widely reported that Mr. Ishiba Shigeru, Diet member of Liberal Democratic Party and former Secretary-General, pointed it out, while some others mentioned negatively that ‘rei’ comes from ‘mei-rei (to give an order).’

As Ministry of Foreign Affairs described ‘reiwa’ means ‘a beautiful harmony,’ ‘rei’ is ‘beautiful,’ but more accurately, the beauty comes from an orderly harmony. BBC reported the meaning as “order and harmony.” In this case, the meaning of ‘order’ would be a ‘stable condition,’ rather than ‘to command.’ For example, the Speaker of the British Parliament calls an “order!” when the Parliament becomes noisy. This is because the Speaker may or may not be ordering the Members to be quiet, but rather asking them to restore the order.

‘Order’ is an essential concept in the study of international relations, too. “Anarchical Society,” one of the major book written by the most well-known ‘British School’ international relations scholar, Hedley Bull, is given a subtitle “A Study of Order in World Politics.” I have read that book many times repeatedly, to use it for the undergraduate seminar I was teaching when I was at London School of Economics as a doctorate student. The ‘order’ used in this book is the fundamental condition, rather than a specific order given by ruler.

Japan does not desire a peace brought by force, hence it shall be brought under an ‘order’ based on the ‘rule of law.’ That is the ‘beautiful harmony’ Japan wishes to realize. I think ‘rei’ can be better explained its origin from ‘ritsu-rei (ancient legal codes)’ as in the rule that composes the ‘rule of law’ in the international community, which the ‘order’ should be based on. At least internationally, I hope, the ‘order and peace’ desired in a ‘beautiful harmony’ would be described in such manner.

(This is an English translation of the article written by SHINODA Hideaki, Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies Graduate School, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu (Hundred Views in Full Perspective)” of GFJ on April 8, 2019.)