Like many people in Japan, I spent the night of April 30 soaking in the final hours of the Heisei era. My plans weren’t all that exciting. Rather than head out to a party in downtown Tokyo or launch myself onto a passing boat in Osaka, I chilled out in the countryside watching TV. Though with nonstop coverage of the time before Reiwa officially kicked off, I felt like I was right in the middle of all the revelry, minus the bruised joints.
A little bit before midnight, Japanese rapper Dotama released a new song called “Heisei.” It’s not exclusively about the preceding era of Japanese history — a few shouts out to Showa, how considerate to the periods not getting the spotlight at the moment — but he went for that title for a reason. It was a smooth bit of timing, rushing in one more song about the time before it exited stage left. Well, it would have been if the previous calendar year hadn’t seen a steady trickle of nostalgia-burned cuts celebrating all things Tamagotchi and post-Bubble.
Like a minute after midnight, idol outfit Shiritsu Ebisu Chugaku uploaded “Ume (Reiwa Version)” to the internet. The smoke from fireworks hadn’t even cleared up and here, already, was a group trying to capitalize on the just-started era. It’s like a couple who rushes out at 12 p.m. to get married and land a little media attention, except idol-ized.
— 私立恵比寿中学（エビ中） (@ebichu_staff) April 30, 2019
Artists of Japan, I beg you — please no more songs about the Heisei era coming to an end, or Reiwa starting. This particular well has been drained down already.
I get it, I really do; this is a legitimate historical moment and the rare moment of an event actually bringing everyone together in a fragmented time when it’s quite easy to just burrow into your own corner. Not to get too goopy, but the actual optimism people seem to be showing at the start of Reiwa is pretty uplifting. Will those good vibes vanish within the next two weeks when something incredibly dumb happens to remind about the current state of the world? You bet! But that shouldn’t detract from the current moment.
Still, though, this all just feels like a cheap novelty, and not even creative cashing in. Beyond the stunt releasing of songs in order to be “the first of Reiwa” or “last of Heisei,” the past year-plus has already been one big nostalgia pit. This runs from semi-tongue-in-cheek numbers from Thelma Aoyama to more earnest creations from rising singer/songwriter Yuta Orisaki. I don’t even know how you factor in something like DA PUMP’s “U.S.A.” but it definitely falls in place there too.
More recently, songs about Reiwa arriving have been cropping up all over the place. If all of them feel a little opportunistic, that’s because they are. Leading the charge was Golden Bomber’s “Reiwa,” coming out hours after the announcement. Up until now, all of these energetic bursts could be forgiven, as they offer a nice time capsule of how giddy people in Japan were leading up to this new era. Something like “Reiwa” by Trekkie Trax Crew and Nakamura Minami nails the pure excitement surrounding all this and probably sounded great during the actual late-night partying accompanying the start of this new time.
Yet now — move on from it! In reality, the first year of Reiwa is just going to feel like a continuation of Heisei, at least until the Tokyo Olympics come around. That doesn’t mean artists have to settle for warmed-over memories of yesteryear and novelty numbers like the special boxes of candy they sell at supermarkets right now stickered with “Reiwa.” Push yourself, and maybe you’ll actually help build on what the sound of Reiwa will be remembered for.