Why people think Japan is about to experience a Y2K moment

As Japan gears up for their new emperor, so too are they prepping for a potential mini apocalypse. On May 1, Crown Prince Naruhito will occupy the Chrysanthemum Throne as the 126th emperor of Japan. It will mark the fall of the 30-year Heisei Era led by his father Emperor Akhito, and the rise of Reiwa Era. The change requires Japan recalibrate its internal calendar system since it largely runs on the imperial era system, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar. And though companies are quickly re-printing calendars and re-tooling databases, The New York Times reported experts are comparing it to a “much smaller and less consequential” version of Y2K.

Welcoming a new era is more symbolic than, say, adhering to the predictable trajectory of the Gregorian calendar. Instead, eras in Japanese culture, each helmed by a new emperor, are used to mark significant social and political moments in time. From 1926 to 1989, Emperor Akhito’s father led the Showa era meaning “shining Japan,” representing the country’s post-war ascent as a global economic powerhouse. Similarly, the current Heisei Era, meaning “achieving peace,” marks Japan’s comeback after a string of natural disasters and political unrest.

According to The Guardian, rei in Reiwa means order, while wa means harmony — and no one can agree on what that means for the country since it foreshadows notions of both increased militarism and peace. Masaharu Mizukami, a professor of Chinese philosophy at Chuo University in Tokyo, told Reuters the misconception might be attributed to the new generation’s declining understanding of kanji, the language system in which eras’ names are illustrated.

While it’s impossible to gauge exactly how the new era will affect documentation like marriage certificates, certain parts of the country are covering their bases. According to The New York Times, the city of Nagoya projects it will spend $4.3 million to accommodate the shift, while a city outside of Tokyo completely ran out of rubber re-stamping old documentation with the new symbol. Microsoft will be sending software updates to its customers with more modern software, but other companies are facing potential computer issues that are being compared to Y2K. However, some companies are opting to switch over to the Gregorian calendar entirely in the off-chance emperor turnover becomes more frequent.

If you’ll be traveling to Japan any time soon, it’s in your best interest to get acquainted with the era name or “gengo,” since it will be printed on everything from calendars to official paperwork, recommends Kotaku. Thankfully, the Gregorian calendar is still used in many parts of the country