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APR 12, 2019

Is Japan’s New Era Name a Reflection of the Country’s Personal Mission?

By Melissa McIvor
iStock photo/ma-no

The Japanese government has announced the name of the new imperial era to begin on May 1: Reiwa (令和) .

With the announcement came an explanation for how the characters are to be read: rei meaning “good” or “beautiful” and wa meaning “peace” or “harmony.” Together, the characters forecast “beautiful harmony” for the years ahead.

This new gengo, or era name, was chosen not by the incoming emperor, but by a panel of experts who based the decision on a number of practical factors, including a two-character quota, reading and writing simplicity, and originality. Also included was the reflection of a national ideal—a direction for the future.

This brings to mind a core element of the GLOBIS MBA: the development of a personal mission, or kokorozashi. Students define and refine their kokorozashi by reflecting on goals and values throughout their studies and life after graduation.

Tomoya Nakamura, dean of the GLOBIS English MBA and co-author of Kokorozashi: The Pursuit of Meaning in Business with Kenya Yoshino and Gil Chavez, describes kokorozashi as something that can “enable significant changes in the people around us, our organization, and society.”

At a glance, the motivations behind determining one’s kokorozashi seem to echo the way the government chooses gengo. Are they not both intended to impact society for the better? Set a direction? Pursue aspirations? How do the two really measure up?

iStock photo/Murata Yuki

Impacting Society

Reiwa, like previous gengo, was chosen to reflect the government’s hopes for Japanese society in the coming era—in this case, beautiful harmony. Kokorozashi, too, carry intentions to impact society.

But expecting gengo and kokorozashi to achieve this impact in the same way may be presumptuous.

“Both would like to make a positive impact on society,” says Yoshino. “That part is the same. However, the era name is more like a vision with hope. Kokorozashi is like a mission with commitment.”

There is a significant difference, he says, in the factor of will.

Setting a Direction

The panel of experts responsible for choosing Reiwa spent a fair amount of time narrowing down gengo candidates to ensure the right choice was made for the coming era. Kokorozashi, by definition, is a more personal thing, but should it, too, be subject to group input?

“If you’re asking if we should amend or revise our kokorozashi based on the feedback from people around us, the answer is yes and no,” says Yoshino. Being more objective than subjective is important, he explains, but we also need to stay committed despite what others think.

This element of personal commitment wins out in kokorozashi, then, over the consensus nature of gengo.

Pursuing Aspirations

Kokorozashi translates to English as “a personal mission.” The first criterion for determining a new gengo is a positive meaning for the national ideal. Does this mean gengo is a national mission?

Not quite.

Again, it comes down to that key factor of will. Reiwa is far more a reflection of hope than of mission. That doesn’t mean, however, that the hope for beautiful harmony cannot be harnessed for individuals to enact change. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his desire to mold Japan into a country of shared hearts and nurturing culture—both of which are somewhat expressed with Reiwa.

“For him,” says Yoshino, “the new era name may represent his kokorozashi.”

The Verdict

Despite loose parallels, gengo and kokorozashi are distinct. Gengo lacks the constant revision process of intention and action that makes kokorozashi so valuable to MBA students at GLOBIS.

Developing a kokorozashi is not about hoping your career will take shape the way you want it to. It’s all about making things happen for the betterment of yourself, your career, and the future of society.