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Unwind

Japan's Heisei imperial era: three generations look back, and ahead

Updated : April 24, 2019 01:07 PM IST

Japan's Heisei era, which began when Emperor Akihito inherited the throne on Jan. 7, 1989, and ends when he abdicates on April 30, saw economic stagnation, disasters and technological change.

Generations of Japanese lived through those decades. Their differing views and experiences will shape the legacy of the Heisei years.

For decades, Haruyo Nihei kept her wartime memories locked away: mothers and infants burnt alive by incendiary bombs; herself struggling under corpses of fleeing victims; her sister's body covered with maggot-infested burns.

Nihei, now 82, still hopes that by recounting her experience as an eight-year-old in the final days of the conflict, she can convey the horrors of war to young Japanese who know only peace.

For Kenji Saito, Heisei was a time of shocking change and liberating opportunity.

Media had reported Yamaichi Securities, Japan's oldest and fourth-largest brokerage, was headed for collapse under the weight of losses hidden for years after the "bubble economy" of soaring asset prices burst.

The image of Yamaichi's then-president Shohei Nozawa apologising and crying as he begged for jobs for the firm's nearly 8,000 employees became a symbol of the financial turmoil that ushered in Japan's "lost decade" of stagnation.

The Heisei era also saw the unravelling of a lifetime employment system that was once a pillar of the country's post-war rise.

After the brokerage failed, he worked for a computer systems company run by his former boss. By 2005, he'd had enough of the corporate rat race and left to start a ramen shop that has since expanded to 10 restaurants.

The economic stagnation of much of the era has left a gloomy taste for many, but Saito said he felt liberated.

A massive natural disaster, technological change, and anxiety about the future are what university student Yuri Harada thinks of when she ponders the Heisei era.

Harada was 11 when a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

Kenji Saito poses at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan on April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Kenji Saito poses at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan on April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Kenji Saito shows raw noodles at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan on April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Kenji Saito shows raw noodles at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan on April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Haruyo Nihei explains to the schoolgirls visiting a museum about the March 10, 1945, US firebombing in Tokyo, Japan April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Haruyo Nihei explains to the schoolgirls visiting a museum about the March 10, 1945, US firebombing in Tokyo, Japan April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph during club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph during club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph with her friend during club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph with her friend during club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, attends club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, attends club activities at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Kenji Saito cooks at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Kenji Saito cooks at his ramen noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Haruyo Nihei poses at a museum about March 10, 1945, US firebombing in Tokyo, Japan April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Haruyo Nihei poses at a museum about March 10, 1945, US firebombing in Tokyo, Japan April 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Yuri Harada (19), a student at Waseda University, poses for a photograph at her university in Tokyo, Japan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
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