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The Heisei era (Japanese: 平成, Hepburn: Heisei) refers to the period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of Emperor Akihito from 8 January 1989 until his abdication on 30 April 2019. The Heisei era started on 8 January 1989, the day after the death of the Emperor Hirohito, when his son, Akihito, acceded to the throne as the 125th Emperor. In accordance with Japanese customs, Hirohito was posthumously renamed "Emperor Shōwa" on 31 January 1989. Heisei translates as "peace everywhere".

Thus, 1989 corresponds to Shōwa 64 until 7 January, and Heisei 1 (平成元年, Heisei gannen, gannen means "first year") from 8 January. The Heisei era ended on 30 April 2019 (Heisei 31), with the abdication of Akihito from the Chrysanthemum Throne. It was succeeded by the Reiwa era as Crown Prince Naruhito ascended the throne on 1 May midnight local time.[1]


History and meaningEdit

Keizō Obuchi attended the press conference to announce the new era name "Heisei". (7 January 1989)

On January 7, 1989, at 07:55 AM JST, the Grand Steward of Japan's Imperial Household Agency, Shōichi Fujimori, announced Emperor Hirohito's death at 6:33 AM JST, and revealed details about his cancer for the first time. Shortly after the death of the Emperor, Keizō Obuchi, then Chief Cabinet Secretary and later Prime Minister of Japan, announced the end of the Shōwa era, and heralded the new era name "Heisei" for the new Emperor, and explained its meaning.

According to Obuchi, the name "Heisei" was taken from two Chinese history and philosophy books, namely Records of the Grand Historian (史記; Shǐjì) and the Book of Documents (書経; Shūjīng). In the Records of the Grand Historian, a sentence appears in a section honoring the wise rule of the legendary Chinese Emperor Shun, reading "内平外成" (pinyin: nèi píng wài chéng; Kanbun: 内平かに外成る (Uchi tairaka ni soto naru)). In the Book of Documents, the sentence "地平天成" (pinyin: dì píng tiān chéng; Kanbun: 地平かに天成る (Chi tairaka ni ten naru, "peace on the heaven and earth")) appears. By combining both meanings, Heisei is intended to mean "peace everywhere".[2] The Heisei era went into effect immediately upon the day after Emperor Akihito's succession to the throne on January 7, 1989.

In August 2016, Emperor Akihito gave a televised address to the nation, in which he expressed concern that his age would one day stop him from fulfilling his official duties. This was an implication of his wish to retire.[1] The Japanese Diet passed a law in June 2017 to allow the throne to pass to Akihito's son, Naruhito.[1] After meeting with members of the Imperial House Council, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced that April 30, 2019 would be the date set for Akihito's abdication.[1] The Era of Naruhito's reign began the next day.[3]


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko with family (2013)

1989 marked the culmination of one of the most rapid economic growth spurts in Japanese history. With a dramatically strengthened yen after the 1985 Plaza Accord, the Bank of Japan kept interest rates low, sparking an investment boom that drove Tokyo property values up 60 percent within that year. Shortly before New Year's Day, the Nikkei 225 reached its record high of 39,000. By 1992, it had fallen to 15,000, signifying the end of Japan's famed "bubble economy". Subsequently, Japan experienced the "Lost Decade", which actually consisted of more than ten years of price deflation and largely stagnant GDP as Japan's banks struggled to resolve their bad debts and companies in other sectors struggled to restructure.

The Recruit scandal of 1988 had already eroded public confidence in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had controlled the Japanese government for 38 years. In 1993, the LDP was ousted by a coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa. However, the coalition collapsed as parties had gathered only to overthrow LDP, and lacked a unified position on almost every social issue. The LDP returned to the government in 1994, when it helped to elect Japan Socialist (later Social Democrat) Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.

In 1995, there was a large 6.8 earthquake in Kobe, Hyōgo and sarin gas terrorist attacks were carried out on the Tokyo Metro by the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. Failure of the Japanese government to react to these events promptly led to the formation of non-government organisations which have been playing an increasingly important role in Japanese politics since.

During this era, Japan reemerged as a military power. In 1991, Japan pledged billions of U.S. dollars for the Gulf War, but constitutional arguments prevented a participation in actual war, leading Iran to criticise Japan for just pledging money and did not appreciate the way Japan co-operated in the Gulf War. However, after the war, Japanese minesweepers were sent as a part of the reconstruction effort. Following the Iraq War, in 2003, Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi's Cabinet approved a plan to send about 1,000 soldiers of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to help in Iraq's reconstruction, the biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II without the sanction of the UN.

On October 23, 2004, the Heisei 16 Niigata Prefecture Earthquakes rocked the Hokuriku region, killing 52 and injuring hundreds (see 2004 Chūetsu earthquake).

After an election defeat, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe resigned suddenly, and in Autumn 2007 Yasuo Fukuda became Prime Minister. Fukuda in turn resigned on September 2008 citing political failings, and Tarō Asō was selected by his party.

In August 2009, for the first time, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 308 seats in the lower house election, which ended 50 years of political domination by the LDP. As a result of the election, Tarō Asō resigned as leader of the LDP, and Yukio Hatoyama, president of DPJ became Prime Minister on 16 September 2009. However, DPJ soon became mired in party financing scandals, particularly involving aides close to Ichirō Ozawa. Naoto Kan was chosen by the DPJ as the next Prime Minister, but he soon lost a working majority in the House of Councillors election, and the 2010 Senkaku boat collision incident caused increased tension between Japan and China. The 2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls also took place during this time.

In 2011, a sumo tournament was cancelled for the first time in 65 years over a match fixing scandal.

On March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m., Japan suffered from the strongest recorded earthquake in its history, affecting places in the three regions of Tohoku, Chubu and Kanto in the northeast of Honshu, including the Tokyo area.[4] The quake's magnitude of 9.0[5] approached that of the severe 2004 megathrust earthquake and tsunami in Asia. A tsunami with waves of up to 10 meters (32.5 feet) flooded inland areas several kilometers from shore,[6] causing a large number of considerable fires. The epicenter of the quake lay so close to coastal villages and towns that thousands could not flee in time, despite a tsunami warning system.[7] At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and three other nuclear power plants,serious problems occurred with the cooling systems,[8] ultimately leading to the most serious case of radioactive contamination since the Chernobyl disaster (see Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster), as well as ongoing electric power shortages. Following the earthquake, for the first time, the Emperor addressed the nation in a pre-recorded television broadcast.

In August 2011, Kan resigned, and Yoshihiko Noda became Prime Minister. Later that year Olympus Corporation admitted major accounting irregularities. (See Tobashi scheme.) Noda pushed for Japan to consider joining the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, but was defeated in an election in 2012, being replaced by Shinzō Abe.

Abe sought to end deflation, but Japan entered recession again in 2014 largely due to a rise in sales tax to 8%. Abe called an election in December, and promised to delay further sales tax hikes to 2018. He won the election.

In September 2015, after much controversy and debate, the National Diet gave final approval to legislation expanding the Japanese military's role overseas.[9]

In 2018, extraordinarily heavy rainfall in Western Japan led to many deaths in Hiroshima and Okayama. Also, an earthquake struck Hokkaido, killing 41 and causing a region-wide blackout.[10]


The bubble economy having continued from around the end of the Shōwa era collapsed.

Top 10 by market capitalization
Rank First year of Heisei (1989) Last year of Heisei (2019)
1   NTT
US$163.8 billion
US$940.8 billion
2   Industrial Bank of Japan
US$71.5 billion
  Apple Inc.
US$895.6 billion
3   The Sumitomo Bank
US$69.5 billion
US$874.7 billion
4   Fuji Bank
US$67.0 billion
  Alphabet Inc.
US$818.1 billion
5   Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank
US$66.0 billion
  Berkshire Hathaway
US$493.7 billion
6   IBM
US$64.6 billion
US$475.7 billion
7   Mitsubishi Bank
US$59.2 billion
  Alibaba Group
US$472.9 billion
8   Ericsson
US$54.9 billion
US$440.9 billion
9   Tokyo Electric Power Company
US$54.4 billion
  Johnson & Johnson
US$372.2 billion
10    Royal Dutch Shell
US$54.3 billion
US$342.1 billion

Conversion tableEdit

A rail pass valid during the year Heisei 18 (which means 2006)

To convert any Gregorian calendar year between 1989 and 2019 to Japanese calendar year in Heisei era, 1989 needs to be subtracted from the year in question, then 1 added.

Heisei 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
AD 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Heisei 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
AD 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Japan's emperor to abdicate on April 30, 2019: gov't source". Kyodo News. 1 December 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  2. ^ 「明治」の由来は何ですか? (in Japanese). Meiji Shrine. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  3. ^ Kyodo, Jiji (3 December 2017). "Japan's publishers wait in suspense for next era name". The Japan Times Online. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  4. ^ Martin Fackler, Kevin Drew: Devastation as Tsunami Crashes Into Japan. The New York Times, March 11, 2011
  5. ^ USGS analysis as of 12 March 2011 Archived March 13, 2011[Date mismatch], at WebCite
  6. ^ Massive tsunami caused by quake’s shallow focus. The Hamilton Spectator, March 12, 2011
  7. ^ Japan's catastrophes—Nature strikes back—Can fragile Japan endure this hydra-headed disaster? The Economist, March 17, 2011
  8. ^ K.N.C., H.T., A.N.: Containing the nuclear crisis
  9. ^ Obe, Mitsuru (18 September 2015). "Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  10. ^ 平成30年北海道胆振東部地震による被害及び消防機関等の対応状況(第25報) (PDF) (in Japanese). Fire and Disaster Management Agency. 14 September 2018. Retrieved 1 November 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Flath, David. The Japanese Economy (2nd ed. 2005) excerpt and text search
  • Hanson, Marta E. The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Politics (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Koo, Richard C. The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lessons from Japan's Great Recession (2nd ed. 2009) excerpt and text search
  • Pascua, Arthur. Devastation in Japan: An Economic Analysis (2012) excerpt and text search, on 2011 Tsunami
  • Schoppa, Leonard J. The Evolution of Japan's Party System: Politics and Policy in an Era of Institutional Change (University of Toronto Press; 2012) 232 pages; Argues that changes starting in the 1990s set the stage for the 2009 victory of the Democratic Party
Preceded by
Shōwa (昭和)
Era of Japan

January 8, 1989 – April 30, 2019
Succeeded by