With the choice of the term "Reiwa" to define the incoming era of emperor Naruhito next month, Japan has laid out a path that is true to its own culture and can cement its connectedness with the rest of Asia. The unique way of marking time by making it coterminous with the reign of an emperor is today practised only in Japan although the tradition began in ancient China and was once prevalent in the Korean peninsula and Vietnam too. As the country transitions to a new era, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has maintained continuity with centuries past, yet broken some norms. The 85-year-old Emperor Akihito's decision to abdicate and the unveiling of the new era name on Monday even before the crowning of the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne are departures from convention. In addition, traditionalists are aggrieved that the committee of selectors did not again dip into the Chinese classics for a name, as in the previous 247 eras.
Some unease has greeted the character "rei", the first part of the name chosen from a native Japanese source for the first time. Mr Abe said it meant "auspicious", harking back to the context from which it is drawn - the 8th-century Manyoshu poems celebrating plum blossoms, plumes that are equally adored in Chinese literature. But it can also mean "order" as it conjures up the image of a kneeling figure. "Wa" stands for peace or harmony, especially meaningful at a time when Mr Abe's stated goal is to recast Japan as a more "normal" nation. Concerns, among some in Japan and outside it, surround his intention to seek changes to the pacifist Constitution that will allow a review of the role of the military.