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According to dictionaries, the WA 和 in 昭和 has both the meaning of peace, harmonious and Japan, japanese (although mostly as the first kanji of a compound, such as in 和語). So I wonder how Japanese of those times perceived the announcement and the phrase.

Did it carry immediately a meaning of (luminous) Peace for Japan, or was the national or identity element not present for a native speaker?

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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sh%C5%8Dwa_period#Etymology There was also a 正和 era –  repecmps Jun 20 '11 at 12:04
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Whether the emperor meant it as a "pun" (or something similar) is pretty hard to know. But it is doubtful.

昭和 means harmony for the same reason that 和 is associated to Japan: in both cases, 和 represents the very specifically-Japanese conception of "social harmony" (which is different enough from the western word, for many scholars to use "Wa", even in English texts). It is not a coincidence, but it predates our era by a good 13 centuries.

The use of 和 in the spelling of 大和【やまと】(old name for Japan) has a long and complex history, but the gist of it is that it was picked as a replacement for a previous kanji used by the Chinese (), which the Japanese did not find flattering. 和 did have a positive association with a philosophical concept that the Japanese considered at the heart of their culture, hence the entanglement and how it became to be both "harmony" and "japan".

To answer your question of whether it carried a meaning of Harmony specifically for Japan: yes, in a way, since "Wa" is the Japanese conception of harmony, and foreigners (particularly of this era) would definitely not be expected to grasp its meaning, let alone have it.

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Thanks for your answer. Can you please tell which kanji was anciently used for yamato, or give a link to a resource about it? –  ogerard Jun 19 '11 at 14:35
    
Yes. The previous kanji was 倭 and it is described at length on both Japanese and English versions of the Wikipedia page for Wa (I have edited my post to add it and fix the broken UTF8 link. I was hoping to find back some article I remember reading about the (cultural/political) implications of either kanji, but can't get my hand back on it. From memory, 倭 had a certain implication of "barbarians", or some equally condescending view of the Japanese by the Chinese, hence the change. –  Dave Jun 19 '11 at 14:49
    
Actually, Wikipedia does offer an explanation for the change: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… (essentially: they resented the "bending down" implication of the kanji) –  Dave Jun 19 '11 at 14:51
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From what I understood from Wikipedia, it was meant to express the hope for peace at home and the desire for the rest of the world to be prosperous together: 国民の平和および世界各国の共存繁栄を願う意味である。

It lists a few other ideas for the name of the era as well: 「神化」「元化」「同和」「継明」「順明」「明保」「寛安」「元安」

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I think that's because 和 can be used as short form of 平和(へいわ-peace), 調和(ちょうわ-harmonious), 大和(やまと-Japan) and may be there is something more.

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