The new era name doesn’t have any of the kanji characters for “Shinzo Abe,” but some people saw the politician’s name all the same.

The reign of each emperor in Japan is marked by a gengo, or official era name. With Japan’s Emperor Akihito set to abdicate the position on May 1, the Heisei period, which started in 1989, will be coming to a close, and on the morning of April 1 the Japanese government announced what the new era will be called.

However, while the new era name is in recognition of the new emperor,  it wasn’t chosen by imperial edict. In modern times, the gengo is selected by the government, specifically the prime minister’s cabinet. Because of that there was a certain amount of speculation that the new era name would contain the kanji character an/安, since it’s also the first kanji in the family name of Japan’s current prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

▼ Abe, written in Japanese

Such a move wouldn’t have to be entirely narcissistic, since an/安 means “peace” or “safety,” making it an auspicious choice to include in the new era’s name. In fact, an/安 has been part of no less than 17 previous Japanese era names. However, it’s now been decided that the new era will be called Reiwa, written in Japanese as 令和.

▼ Reiwa

No connection to Abe there, right? Not at first glance, but one Japanese Twitter user, @Caiga12_kp246, thinks he’s spotted a stealth inclusion of not merely an/安, but of Abe’s entire family name.

As we’ve talked about before, the Japanese language has three kinds of writing. Ordinarily, Abe writes his name, as most Japanese people do, in kanji, in which each character represents a word or concept. But if you were to write “Abe” in the purely phonetic Japanese script called katakana, it’d look like this.

It’s this katakana version of Abe’s name, albeit a squished and distorted one, that @Caiga12_kp246 sees hiding inside the kanji for Reiwa.

▼ Apparently he wasn’t the only one to see the prime minister’s name in the Reiwa kanji either.

So is this a shady attempt by Abe to grab a little glory for himself? Almost definitely not. First off, while the katakana some people see hidden in the kanji would indeed be read as “Abe,” katakana are used for rendering foreign loanwords and foreign names in Japanese. In other words, they’re for things that don’t already have kanji, so someone with an indigenous Japanese name, like Abe, wouldn’t use them. There’s also the fact that with certain fonts, the bottom section of the first kanji in Reiwa (令) changes enough to eliminate any similarity with the first katakana for “Abe” (ア).

▼ Both of these are read “Reiwa.”

So in the end, it looks like the hidden Abe is just a coincidental quirk, and not a sneaky attempt by the prime minster to literally leave his mark on history.

Source: Twitter/@Caiga12_kp246 via Hachima Kiko
Images: SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where it’s impossible for him to see the katakana ア and not remember being able to read it for the first time in the Street Fighter II Super Famicom instruction booklet.