As the clock strikes midnight on May 1, Japan welcomes its new era. Emperor Naruhito ascends the throne and marks the start of the Reiwa period (令和) which means “beautiful harmony.”
The abdication ceremonies of Emperor Naruhito’s father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito took place the day before. A historic abdication in 200 years, Emperor Emeritus Akihito cited his old age and health reasons in ending his 30 year reign of the Hesei (平成) period which started on January 8, 1989.
It was as they say, “the end of an era.”
It’s surreal to have lived and witnessed a change of era in the land of the rising sun. For a Filipino living in Japan, it’s all so new, historic, and to some extent, emotional.
The first time I filled out a Japanese form five years ago, I was confused on how dates are supposed to be written here. I wrote my birth date the same way I’m used to: month, day, year. Then, I was asked to write it in traditional Japanese style too. Being born on 1990, I was told by the city hall staff to encircle the Hesei period (平成) option and to write “2” beside it. This means I was born on the second year of the Hesei period. It was when I realized how the Japanese people give importance and value to their emperor and his reign. It’s in their culture and it’s who they are as a nation, as a people.
This made me think of my Japanese grandmother, Hanako or Lola Cenciang as I called her. If she was still alive, what would have been her thoughts on the change of era and of Japan’s continuous efforts in maintaining peace, 74 years after the end of the Second World War?
My Lola Cenciang’s father, Yujiro or “Papang” as she called him was a Japanese soldier during World War II. He was assigned in the Philippines and it was in Surigao del Sur where he met and fell in love with my great grandmother. When Japan lost their last battle in the Philippines, he was forced to go back to his hometown, painfully leaving his own family behind. He then registered his wife and kids’ names under his family tree in Japan. Decades later, my mom and her siblings were informed of the rights and opportunities they have as Japanese descendants or “Nikkeijins” abroad.
As a child, I looked forward to Lola Cenciang’s occasional visits in Cebu. She never failed to bring me and my siblings the biggest alimango (crabs) we have ever seen and the crunchiest ampao (sweet puffed rice cake) we have ever tasted. She also gave us pillow cases with our names embroidered on it. After our naps, we eagerly listened to her stories during the war, her memories with her Papang, and her recollection on how she stayed strong after her Papang’s leaving. Years passed and Lola Cenciang left us too. She left without having to set foot on her Papang’s land, her other home supposedly.
Even after five years of living here in Japan, I still think of my Lola Cenciang when I see elderly people at the supermarket, when I hear them laugh on train rides, and when they randomly greet me while lining up at bus stops. Many of them are people her age who have lived to see more than one change of era.
A change of era, just like the New Year, is more than just a time of celebrating history. It is also a time of reflection. For a Nikkeijin like me, it’s about going back to my Japanese ancestry, revisiting memories of my Japanese grandmother, and it’s about fully embracing the fact that I may not be a citizen here but a part of me will always be Japanese.
As the new era unfolds, one can only wish and pray that it will indeed be a beautiful harmony of peace, respect, and hope for Japan and for everyone who has called Japan their home.
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