|Our Sense of Era
Power of the Common People
Major Copper Vein Discovered
|Our Sense of Era|
|At last, the new century has dawned. A century is more to us than just a way to divide time into 100-year increments. The significance of a century lies in the way it gives special shades of meaning and atmosphere to segments of the ongoing flow of time, as when we label the 20th century the century of industrialization or the century of the computer.
People around the world share the Christian calendar to mark eras, but there are also many nations and peoplesfor example, the Islamic countries and the Jewish peoplewhose own calendars, based on milestone religious and political events, provide them with unique era markers and senses of history. Japan, too, is a nation with a distinctive sense of era.
In the Japanese calendar, 2001 is the year Heisei 13, which means the 13th year in the Heisei era. The practice of using Chinese characters for era names followed by a number to designate the year within an era spread from China to surrounding countries, such as Japan, that adopted Chinese characters to write their own languages. The first era in Japan that is designated in this way started in A.D. 645. From 701 to the presentfor nearly 1,300 yearsthe chain of such eras has continued unbroken. To many Japanese people, these era names carry a stronger sense of the atmosphere and feel of historical periods than do Christian-calendar years.
In Part III of this series, we discussed how in the latter half of the 17th century, Sumitomos home city, Osaka, came to be called Japans Kitchen for its role as a center for processing industries and a major supplier of goods to Edo (now Tokyo), the largest city in the world at the time. The Genroku era (16881704) was at the center of this period, during which the unification of the countryan event that marked a shift from centuries of warfare to a time of peacebrought about a stable society, which set the stage for dramatic advances in commerce, the arts, and other cultural aspects.