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The Heisei era (Japanese: 平成) is 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 to "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.
History and meaning
On 7 January 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) and the Book of Documents (書経). 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" (Kanbun: 内平かに外成る, Uchi tairaka ni soto naru). In the Book of Documents, the sentence "地平天成" (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". The Heisei era went into effect immediately upon the day after Emperor Akihito's succession to the throne on 7 January 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. The Japanese Diet passed a law in June 2017 to allow the throne to pass to Akihito's son, Naruhito. After meeting with members of the Imperial House Council, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced that 30 April 2019 would be the date set for Akihito's abdication. The Era of Naruhito's reign began the next day.
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 Tokyo Stock Market index, Nikkei 225, reached its record high of 38,957. 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.
The 1990s had an "anime boom" period marked by increased popularity of anime and anime conventions. Several anime media franchises gained global popularity such as Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Gundam, Fist of the North Star, Dragon Ball, Yu-Gi-Oh and Evangelion.
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 made a financial contribution of $10 billion and sent military hardware for the Gulf War. However, Article 9 of the Constitution prevented a participation in the actual war, leading Iran to criticize Japan for just pledging money and did not appreciate the way Japan co-operated in the Gulf War. However, after the war, between 26 April and October 1991 six JMSDF minesweeper vessels were sent and removed 34 sea mines in the Persian Gulf to improve the safety of ships.
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. The mission lasted until February 2009.
The 2002 FIFA World Cup was the first FIFA World Cup to be held in Asia, the first to be held outside of the Americas or Europe, as well as the first to be jointly-hosted by more than one nation. This world championship for men's national football teams was jointly hosted by Japan and South-Korea to improve relations.
In November 2005, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)'s robotic spacecraft Hayabusa landed on an asteroid and collected samples in the form of tiny grains of asteroidal material, which were returned to Earth aboard the spacecraft on 13 June 2010. It was the first spacecraft in history designed to deliberately land on an asteroid and then take off again. The Hayabusa mission was the first to return an asteroid sample to Earth for analysis.
After an election defeat, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe resigned suddenly, and in Autumn 2007 Yasuo Fukuda became Prime Minister. Fukuda in turn resigned in September 2008 citing political failings, and Tarō Asō was selected by his party.
In 2008, Greater Tokyo has the largest metropolitan economy in the world with a total GDP (nominal) of approximately $2 trillion (¥165 trillion). Greater Tokyo also has the largest metropolitan population in the world with an estimated 35 million.
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.
The population of Japan peaked at 128 million in 2010. This was Japan's biggest population in history. It declined due to a low birthrate in the following years.
On 11 March 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. The quake's magnitude of 9.0 approached that of the severe December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in South and Southeast Asia, and also the severe January 2010 Haiti earthquake and with the severe February 2011 New Zealand's Christchurch earthquake. A tsunami with waves of up to 10 meters (32.5 feet) flooded inland areas several kilometers from shore, 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. At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and three other nuclear power plants, serious problems occurred with the cooling systems, 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, Naoto 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.
In the first half of 2014, The Toyota became the biggest automaker in the world selling 5.1 million vehicles in the six months ending 30 June 2014, an increase of 3.8% on the same period the previous year. Volkswagen AG recorded sales of 5.07 million vehicles.
Prime Minister Shinzo 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.
On 18 September 2015, the National Diet enacted the 2015 Japanese military legislation that allows the Japan Self-Defense Forces to collective self-defense of allies in combat for the first time under the 1947 constitution.
In 2018, Pokémon became the highest-grossing media franchise of all time with an estimated $90 billion revenue. Pokémon surpassed the number 2 Hello Kitty ($80 billion) and the number 5 Star Wars ($65 billion).
In 2018 a record number of 31,191,929 foreign tourists visited Japan in 2018. This is a 33% increase over 2015 (19.73 million). In 2017, 3 out of 4 foreign tourists came from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
Japan was the world's largest creditor nation since 1990 and for 22 years straight. By 2018, Japan regained the leading position as the predominant source of saving and investments. Japan owned net global assets of ¥328 trillion, Germany (¥262 trillion), China (¥205 trillion).
In September 2018, Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese woman to contest a Grand Slam singles final and the first Japanese Grand Slam singles champion. Naomi Osaka was the winner of the 2018 US Open Women's Singles.
The first JSDF dispatch to a peacekeeping operation that was not led by the United Nations was approved in April 2019. Two JGSDF officers were despatched to monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt at the Multinational Force and Observers command in the Sinai peninsula from 19 April till 30 November 2019.
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)|
| Microsoft |
|2|| Industrial Bank of Japan
| Apple Inc. |
|3|| The Sumitomo Bank
| Amazon.com |
|4|| Fuji Bank
| Alphabet Inc. |
|5|| Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank
| Berkshire Hathaway |
| Facebook |
|7|| Mitsubishi Bank
| Alibaba Group |
| Tencent |
|9|| Tokyo Electric Power Company
| Johnson & Johnson |
|10|| Royal Dutch Shell
| ExxonMobil |
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