Two Chinese characters 

(April 14, 2019)

In Japan, the current big news is that  “Japan has revealed the name of its next imperial era to be "Reiwa," set to begin May 1 as Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to take the throne.”

Reiwa is written with two kanji characters. While there was some deliberation over the exact meaning, the two characters that make up the new name, or the "gengo," translate roughly to "good fortune" and "peace" or "harmony," 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said two Chinese characters was taken for the first time from an ancient Japanese book instead of from Chinese classics. He said it comes from a section about plum blossoms in “Manyoshu,” a poetry anthology from the 7th to 8th centuries, and it suggests that “culture is born and nurtured as the people’s hearts are beautifully drawn together.”

The imperial era name, or “gengo”, is used on documents, newspapers, calendars and coins. It is the way many Japanese count the years, although use of the Western calendar is becoming more widespread, and many use the two systems interchangeably.

ORIGINS OF GENGO   Japan imported the imperial calendar system from China about 1,300 years ago. (Starting with the Meiji era (1868-1912), it adopted the practice of “one emperor, one era name.” Previously, era names were sometimes changed mid-reign, such as after disasters. )

There have been four era names in the modern period: Meiji, Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and the current Heisei.  Emperor Akihito is set to step down on April 30 in the first abdication of the throne in over 200 years.

 

I think you know that we have a Dharma name which is composed of two Chinese characters, like this imperial era name, Gengo”. This is a common way to make a name by combining two Chinese characters such as a person’s name, school name so on. Usually we put our wish on that name by using two Chinese characters.  In Japan, when we introduce our name, people ask “how do you write it in Kanji, Chinese characters”

 

In the funeral service of our Shin tradition, we have a presentation of the Dharma name. Basically, we are supposed to get a Dharma name as a guide for our life at the confirmation ceremony. So we are supposed to have a Dharma name already when we die. An officiant introduces the dharma name at the funeral service. If the deceased person didn’t take the confirmation ceremony, then the officiant would give a new dharma name at the service.

 

By the way, I have received the question that “Should we call the service as a memorial service if we don’t have a casket.” The answer is no; we call it a funeral service only if it is officiated by Buddhist tradition.

That question came from Christian tradition. They call it a “memorial service” even if we don’t have the casket.

That is about how to call the rituals, so I actually don’t mind the name, but it seems like a few people are concerning about the name. So I am explaining it now.

In Shin tradition, we call it a “funeral service” lonly if we present the Dharma name at the service. 

We present the Dharma name at the service of the first official service of the deceased person. Here in the US, a few people wish to have the pillow side service. Usually it is for close family, while the first official service is for everyone who have a connection with that person. That is the funeral service. But sometimes, we have a funeral service only for the immediate family.

The reason we present the dharma name at the first official service of the deceased person is that we, the survivors, will listen to and receive his or her life energy and wish into ourselves at the service. It is the instructive education and transference of love and energy working (回向) from deceased to us. The life wish of the deceased is being turned over to us and we are being immersed in it. We need to listen and receive it.

That is why we have a presentation of the Dharma name and it is different from other memorial services.

There is a wish that is being turned over to us for our lives. We have to listen to the wish. We cannot see the wish ourselves, and so we are given a name for it.

The meaning of the wish is put into words when we apply the two Chinese characters to a name.