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You Can Buy a Tin of Air to Commemorate the End of the Heisei Era

The nostalgic keepsake goes up for sale in advance of Emperor Akihito’s abdication

Nostalgia in a can (handout)
smithsonianmag.com

For the low price of 1,080 yen, or about $10, you can buy “the air of the outgoing era.”

Tomorrow, Emperor Akihito will officially abdicate after 30 years as Japan’s symbolic leader, bringing the Heisei era to an end. To mark the occasion, an enterprising Osaka-based gift company has put a batch of cans that appear mostly empty, save for a small five-yen coin (a symbol of good luck), up for sale.

Heso Production, which bottled 1,000 of the nostalgic keepsakes, hopes to sell the tins online and at a roadside shop in the village of Henari—a town that has become a tourist hotspot these days, as its name is written with the same kanji (平成) used to spell Heisei.

“Air is free of charge but we hope people will enjoy breathing the fresh air of Heisei after the new era comes, or just keep it as a memento,” company president Minoru Inamoto said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

The air cans are just one in a slew of commemorative merchandise flooding Japan’s markets as the era—which roughly translates to "achieving peace"—winds to a close. AFP reports that “oval gold coins engraved with Heisei”—some of them priced at nearly $12,000—“are selling like hot cakes at Tokyo department stores.” Bakeries, meanwhile, are selling sweets popularized during the emperor’s reign, which began on January 8, 1989, when he ascended to the throne following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito. In Japan's era system, used in conjunction with the 12-month Gregorian calendar, each change in imperial leadership marks the start of a new era, which is labeled with a unique name or "gengo."

The imperial shift is an unusual one, as Akihito is the first emperor in centuries to step down by choice. Tradition holds that Japanese emperors—who, like British monarchs, hold no official political power—rule for life. However, after Akihito, who is now 85, expressed concerns about his age and his health in a 2016 statement, the legislature voted to allow the abdication to go forward.

As a result, the mood leading up to the era change is unusually cheery as Akihito’s son, Crown Prince Naruhito, prepares to step up to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

“The transition … is a rare opportunity to celebrate,” AP News’ Haruka Nuga writes. Japan has extended its annual “Golden Week” of national holidays for the occasion, and domestic tourism is expected to swell during the 10-day period of festivities. Speaking to Kyodo News, economist Koya Miyamae speculates that spending during the holiday could bring an estimated 377 billion yen, or about $3.4 billion, to the country’s economy.

Entrepreneurs aren't just looking backward. Many have already seized the opportunity to capitalize on the dawn of the new era: The Telegraph’s Danielle Demetriou reports you can purchase gold-dusted potato chips, $900 mega-burgers and novelty toilet paper rolls themed to the occassion. One manufacturer even launched a line of engraved tin cups just minutes after the latest era’s name—“Reiwa,” or “pursuing harmony”—was announced earlier this month.

About Maddie Burakoff
Maddie Burakoff

Maddie Burakoff is an editorial intern with Smithsonian magazine. She is currently a junior at Northwestern University, where she studies journalism and Spanish.

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