What’s So Important About Auspicious Peace

Photo: DPA from the Straits Times, April 6, 2019

The Japanese Emperor Akihito is abdicating the throne at the end of this month and the Heisei era will come to an end and a new era, the Reiwa era, will begin under the new Emperor, the Crown Prince Naruhito. Translated, the kanji for Reiwa can be read to mean ‘beautiful harmony’ (according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry) which in my mind, is a great followup to the Heisei era (translated as the ‘achieving peace’ era).

And ever since the announcement was made, the name of the era has sparked conversation about the choice of name.

For instance, it is the first era name to be taken from a Japanese poem, and not a Chinese work of literature. Just in case you were curious, its taken from a poem about plum blossoms that appear in Man’yoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.

Second, although the translation sounds harmonious enough, the first character also means ‘order’ or ‘command.’ Sounds way more ominous and brings back memories of Japan in its more militaristic and authoritarian time (which is probably why the Japanese Foreign Ministry released the official translation above).

And finally, there’s Reiwa, the real estate company in Australia which not only shares its name with the new era, but has received a lot of undue attention and site visits. Might they receive an uptick in business as well?

It’s an interesting choice of name. But beyond that, how is this change of era going to affect my life and yours? Will there be earthquakes and tsunamis? Immense celebration? Maybe in Japan, but in the rest of the world, time will continue its inexorable march forward and only note the passing of the Heisei era with a shrug.

So why should anyone not living near Tokyo care about the passing of an era? It’s a naming convention that fewer and fewer people in Japan even use (aside from official documents, most people just use the Gregorian calendar now. Anyone who uses a Japanrail pass will know what I’m talking about).

Well, I can’t speak for you, but in the short term, it interested me. Maybe its because my ancestors hail from just outside Kyoto. Maybe its my curiosity as a writer that draws me into finding out more about Japan’s era naming conventions. Maybe I could use era names in my stories?

Whatever the case, it made me curious enough to go searching for details about how Japan names its eras. Here is a bit of what I found and how I might use this information as a writer.

This type of era naming convention is known as the Nengo (or Gengo) system. It is yet another foreign artifact brought into Japan from China after migrating its way from other south-east Asian countries. In pre-modern times, how the Japanese named their eras depended a lot on the whims of the Emperor at the time. Sometimes an Emperor would just declare a new era to give his reign a ‘fresh start.’ Sometimes, a new era would be named in the wake of a natural disaster like a tsunami. In modern times, a new era name is chosen only when a new Emperor rises to the throne: “one reign, one era name.” And the names are decided by the government, not by the Emperor.

And how would I use this knowledge as a writer? The answer is probably obvious: it is another setting detail that can give authenticity to your story or novel.

If you write historical fiction set in Japan, especially before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1873, it behooves you to find out what era your story is set. Even if you never mention it in the story, you should know (someone, somewhere is likely to ask).

But what if you don’t write historical fiction? What if you write high fantasy set in a Japanese-like setting? Or a future Japan (You can ask yourself if the population even uses it anymore and establish how many of their traditions they keep)? This is another way to give your world an air of authenticity. It’s also one more detail you can use to immerse your reader into your world. Just be aware of the many reasons Emperors in the past have used to name their eras.

And if you don’t write either of the above? Or even stories set in Asia? Well, I would be remiss in not telling you that the Nengo system of era naming is unique to Japan or even China. Other cultures in south-east Asia and the Middle East have utilized similar calendars in very similar manners. And we haven’t even touched upon the lunar calendar yet. Let your imagination run wild.

Now this is not the only piece of detail you need to give your story an air of authenticity, but it certainly is a detail you can use. It’s only the beginning. Time. It’s a small detail, but a good one to establish your world by.

So, yeah. The world won’t come to an end on May 1 when the Reiwa era begins, but in the worlds of my imagination, it is likely to set them on fire.

What do you think? Is this style of keeping time useful to you as a writer? Does it spark any ideas that you can use in future stories. Drop me a line and let me know. I’d really like to hear from you.

Personal Appearance Update

Normally, this would be in my monthly update Breathe In, Breathe Out, but this is coming up before then and I wanted to announce where I’m going to be during the month of April:

U of C Student Cafe – April 13 at 2:00 pm at Shelf Life Books. I will be reading from one of my short stories and celebrating the accomplishments of the students in the University of Calgary’s Continuing Education Creative Writing Certificate program. I would love to see you all there.

Calgary Comic Expo – April 25 – 28 at Calgary Stampede Park – I will be at the IFWA Table located in Artists Alley (in the Big Four Building). Come by and say hi. I will also be appearing on as a panelist in the Author’s Journey Panel which will take place on Saturday, April 27 at 3:45 p.m. in the Palomino Room. Join me and four other authors in discussing what the author’s journey is all about.

The Carp and the Dragon Gate

Happy New Year to you all. Welcome to the Year of the Pig (I know, I know. It was a few days ago. But I thought I should give you good wishes and fortune anyway).

And welcome to my Blog. The Blog will be published once a month on the 8th day of every month. If I get ambitious enough, I’ll try and do it twice a month, but for now, the blog will be once a month. With each entry, I plan on talking about culture – specifically Chinese and Japanese culture and folklore told from my perspective – that is of a Canadian author of Chinese and Japanese heritage. So join me on the 8th day of each and every month for more content.

So, on to the first one:

According to legend, once a year in the third month of spring, carp swim from the sea and gather at the foot of a falls. Many carp swim upstream against the river’s strong current, but few are capable or brave enough to make it to the pool. Even fewer are able to make the final leap over the waterfall. If a carp makes the jump, it is transformed into a powerful dragon, an auspicious symbol of great and benevolent, magical power. The symbol of the carp jumping over the Dragon’s Gate. “More generally, the expression is used to communicate that if a person works hard and diligently, success will one day be achieved.” [1]

For a visual representation of this tale, just look at my banner art created by the incomparable Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. I chose this piece because its a representation of who I am. Period.

First, the most obvious. I was born under the sign of Pisces and during the Year of the Dragon. But more importantly, as a writer and author, it’s the story of my life. Writing is a struggle for me. Time, especially time to write, is a scarcity, and the speed at which I write is slow. So anything I finish, is like magic for me. As I mature as a writer, it has become a bit easier, but not by much. But I eke out writing time where I can get it (as I write this, it is early in the morning while I’m on vacation while my family sleeps. Best time for me).

So when do I become a dragon? When will I say that I have leapt the dragon’s gate and become a being of auspicious power? I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. I’d like to say when I can support myself and my family with my writing, but with my circumstances, I’m not even close to this goal. I’ve published short stories and have been nominated for an Aurora Award, so I like to think I’m well on my way. Follow me and we’ll take that journey together.

And I think I’m capable and brave enough to eventually make that leap.

  1. [http://www.zengyotaku.com/carp_jump_dragon_gate.html]

V-Con Schedule

I will be appearing at V-Con this coming weekend. I will only be there on Saturday and on Saturday evening, I will be at the Aurora Awards banquet.

Here is my schedule if you wish to find me and say hello:

10:00 am

Diversity in Speculative Fiction Media :: Programming 2 (Minoru D)
Anthony Lee-Dudley, Calvin D. Jim, Tanya Lisle, Liz Westbrook-Trenholm

Saturday October 6, 2018 :: 10:00 am to 10:50 am

4:00 pm

Travel as Inspiration :: Main Programming (Britannia C)
Krista D. Ball, Patrick Bollivar, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Matthew Hughes, Calvin D. Jim, Hayden Trenholm

Saturday October 6, 2018 :: 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm

Find out more about V-Con here.

Interview with Jayne Barnard

I have had the honour to be interviewed by Jayne Barnard, the author of the incredible Maddie Hatter young adult novels, as part of her series interviewing Prix-Aurora Award nominees. The interview can be found on her website, Clockworks and Crime. Jayne Barnard’s latest novel, Maddie Hatter and the Timely Taffeta, along with the other novels in the series, can be found where all great books are sold.

Aurora Award Voting

The Prix-Aurora Award voting ends in a week, folks. Saturday, September 8, 2018 is the deadline. Still time to vote for your favorite stories in a variety of categories, including Best Short Fiction where my own story, Rose’s Arm (published by Laksa Media in the anthology entitled Where the Stars Rise), is nominated under.

For all those who nominated my story for an Aurora Award, I want to say a humble and grateful thank-you. You have no idea what this nomination means to me as an author and creator, even if it doesn’t win.

So visit the Prix Aurora Award website (linked) and vote. If you haven’t already gotten your membership to the CSFFA, do it now. It only costs $10.00 and gets you the author package which includes a multitude of nominated stories and novels. Pretty great deal for $10.00.

My Podcast Interview

I had the honour and privilege of being interviewed by Just Joshin podcaster Josh Pantellaresco in his Prix-Aurora Award nominated podcast. It is Episode 184 and it was part of his series of Aurora-nominated writers. You can hear it here on iTunes or on Podomatic.