A Quick Note About Japanese Era Names

If you happen to stumble into a conversation between Godzilla fans, you might hear the term “Showa”, referring to the older Godzilla movies, and “Heisei”, referring to the newer movies.  While the fandom uses these terms to refer to the different periods of movies (there is also the “Millenium” series, but more on that later), these terms have their origins in Japanese naming of different eras, a practice known as Nengo.

In 1868, Mutsuhito assumed the throne and began unifying Japan under the Imperial system.  Where era names were previously decided by court decision, it was decided to adopt a system of naming eras based on the time of an emperors reign to help establish the power of the emporer.  This is similar to the old Chinese system of era naming (think “Ming dynasty” and the like).

When an emperor ascends to the throne, a name is decided for his reign, and the calendar years are noted by the year of the emperors reign.  For example, the current era name is Heisei, which began in 1989.  Thus, 1989 would be noted as “Heisei 1”, 1990 would be “Heisei 2”, and so forth.  The era name also becomes the posthumous name of the emperor himself.  When Emperor Hirohito, whose era was named “Showa”, died in 1989, his name after death became “Emperor Showa”.  He is not, however, referred to by his era name during his lifetime, only after his death.  It is also considered impolite in Japanese society to refer to the emperor by his real name, the honorific Tenno Heika (His Imperial Majesty the Emperor) or something similar is used instead.

There have been four periods since the adoption of the practice:

The Meiji period (1868-1912) – Emperor Mutsuhito

The Taisho period (1912-1926) – Emperor Yoshihito

The Showa period (1926-1989) – Emperor Hirohito

The Heisei period (1989-current) – Emperor Akihito

Since the first 15 Godzilla movies were made in the Showa period, they are referred to as the “Showa Series”, while the movies between “Godzilla 1985” and “Godzilla vs. Destroyah” are referred to as the “Heisei Series”.  Technically, “Godzilla 1985” was also made during the Showa period, but since it is related by continuity to the Heisei series, it is referred to as a Heisei movie.  The movies starting with Godzilla 2000 started a new continuity series (of sorts), and they are referred to as the “Millenium Series”.

There, you learned something!

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~ by Chris on May 3, 2014.

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