Skip to menu


HOME > Column > 6 An Account about Naming the New Imperial Era - Could "Showa" Have Been "Kobun" Instead?

An Account about Naming the New Imperial Era - Could "Showa" Have Been "Kobun" Instead?

The first of the various "riddles" and "shadowy narratives" to grace the Showa era is the account that "Kobun" rather than Showa was to have been the next imperial era name after "Taisho". As the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun revealed in a scoop published as an "extra" before the government made its official announcement, the suspicion is that "Kobun" was discarded quickly and was substituted with the second choice, "Showa." The foregoing had taken a life of its own because the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun's report. There have been several "witnesses" saying that the favorite for the post-Taisho name was "Kobun," and this "fact" has popped up in the past in popular quiz shows.

It is true that "Kobun" was one of the candidates officially considered as the name of the new Imperial era to follow Taisho. ISHIWATARI Takayuki writes in his book, "Showa in the Public Record" (Kitanomaru 7), based on the "Showa Tairei Kiroku", "Kobun" was included in the list of five names proposed by the Cabinet for the next imperial era name. It was, however, actually the Imperial Household Ministry that played the central role in the process of drawing up new name proposals (kanjin) and "Kobun" is not found among the original ten names recommended; out of the first round of ten names, five survived, in the third round three did. "Showa" appears in all three rounds. The list for round number three contained the names, "Showa", "Shinka", and "Genka". After consultations between the Imperial Household Agency and the Cabinet, "Showa" ensued as the finalist and "Genka" and "Dowa" as alternatives. "Dowa", for the record, had made it as far as the second round. Therefore, "Kobun" was merely one of the suggested names that had been leaked during the process. Since the "Showa Tairei Kiroku" was compiled after the fact, and was not an original historical document, one could conceivably make the obstinate argument that it merely contains a "reconstructed" scenario that positions "Showa" as the new imperial name from the very beginning.

KURATOMI Yuzaburo' diary 1926(Taisho 15) Papers of KURATOMO Yuzaburo #8-9, 10, 11, 12, 13 [Historical materials image]
KURATOMI Yuzaburo' diary 1926(Taisho 15)
Papers of KURATOMO Yuzaburo #8-9, 10, 11, 12, 13

When a new Emperor ascends the throne, a "Change of Name Rescript" is issued, and is submitted to the Privy Council for consultation. The Privy Council President KURATOMI Yuzaburo in his Diary records the discussions that he had with Imperial Household Minister ICHIKI Kitokuro, and from it we get an inside glimpse into the process of selecting the new era name. On 8 December 1926 (Taisho 15), KURATOMI had a private talk with ICHIKI, and they made arrangements so as to make the ceremonies associated with the change of names, and Privy Council deliberations proceed smoothly. Regarding the new era name, KURATOMI writes in his Diary that ICHIKI told him, "Though the Cabinet is to make the preparations, if it does carry them out, I am concerned that the new era name will be leaked immediately. Therefore, while it may be a little unreasonable, I recommend that YOSHIDA (here two characters are lacking) at the Imperial Household Ministry be ordered to select three, and then inform WAKATSUKI (Reijiro) of the three names. In the event there are objections about it, and the Cabinet makes changes a reselection by the cabinet may lead to a leak, so if there are objections, promise me that they should be made directly to the Imperial Household Ministry. The "YOSHIDA" referred to in this passage is YOSHIDA Masuzo, who was in charge of drawing up the Imperial Household Ministry's lists.

ICHIKI next informed KURATOMI on the condition that the conversations is private, on the process involving in selecting the new era name. He said : "The first candidate is "Showa" (from the Gyoten section of the Chinese Book of Changes), the second is "__wa" (forgot the first character), the third is maybe "Genka" (forgot the exact name). Since the second name that KURATOMI partially forgot is thought to be the "Dowa" of the final proposal, ICHIKI seems to have been unofficially informing KURATOMI the final proposals resulting from the consultations with the Cabinet. ICHIKI had summarized the process from the third kanshin to the final proposal, there is no doubt that as of 8 December, a final proposal did exist that included "Showa" as the final choice, along with "Genka" and "Dowa" alternatives.

ICHIKI also told KURATOMI the Genro SAIONJI Kinmochi and Lord keeper of the Privy Seal MAKINO Nobuaki mentioned that "the first candidate name seems the best", although (we) prefer the character "sho" (章) for Showa. However, since that character seems to have been already used for an era name by a sovereign in a foreign country, that is the era name for the Shotei (章帝) Emperor in the Latter Han Dynasty in China in A.D. 87-88. KURATOMI responded by saying that the character we selected for "sho" (昭) was regrettably a bit difficult, and the two continued their conversation assuming that "Showa" would be the new imperial era name. To contemporary Japanese who have become accustomed to the characters "sho" (昭) in "Showa" (昭和) these may seem strange that the character "sho" (昭) was considered difficult. This characters was ,however, hardly used at all at that time. ICHIKI and KURATOMI then discussed whether the character for "sho" (昭) is included in the list of officially approved characters by the Ministry of Education. For the first few years after the name "Showa" (昭和) was selected, there was a boom in babies named after the era, such as Shoichi [昭一] and Akira [昭] (using another reading for the "sho" character) for boys, and Kazuko [和子] (using another reading for the "wa" character) for girls.

Soon after the Emperor Taisho died on 25 December 1926, there is an entry in KURATOMI's Diariy that "the Privy Council consultated on the era name," but he only writes about changes made in the wording of the decree announcing the era name change, and there is nothing in the Diary about a substitution having been made in the name. At that time, the Imperial Household Ministry and the Government were waging a fierce battle with the newspaper publishers about the way the Emperor's illness was being reported. In the 15 December entry of his Diary, Vice Minister SEKIYA Teizaburo of the Imperial Household Ministry writes, "After an interview with the metropolitan bureau chiefs, it was announced that that any bulletin about the Emperor's critical condition would be made simultaneously from the Emperor's villa in Hayama and Tokyo". Just as ICHIKI had feared, the "Kobun" incident came about as a result of a leak on part of Cabinet's proceedings, that led to extremely strict information control. This left the reporters to grasp at any informations without being able to verify it.

Diary of KURATOMI Yuzaburo 8 December 1926 (Taisho 15) Papers of KURATOMI Yuzaburo #8-11, 12

Diary of KURATOMI Yuzaburo 8 December 1926(Taisho 15) Papers of KURATOMI Yuzaburo #8-11, 12 [image]
Copyright © 2006-2010 National Diet Library. Japan. All Rights Reserved.