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Abe says name of Japan's new era to be disclosed on April 1

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a New Year press conference in Ise, Mie Prefecture, on Jan. 4, 2019. (Kyodo)

ISE, Japan (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed Friday in his New Year's press conference that Japan's new era name following the abdication of Emperor Akihito will be announced April 1.

Abe said the new name will be endorsed at a Cabinet meeting on April 1 ahead of the emperor's abdication on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito's ascension to the imperial throne on May 1.

Bringing forward the announcement of the era name for the new emperor's reign by one month is intended to ensure the necessary preparation period for government offices and companies to update their information systems and to avoid possible confusion among the public. The era name is widely used in Japanese calendars, newspapers and official documents, along with the Gregorian calendar.

"The government will make all-out efforts to prepare for the historic imperial succession so that people can celebrate altogether," Abe said in the press conference after visiting the Ise Grand Shrine in central Japan.

He explained that the government will make the new name public in advance this time to mitigate the impact of the change on the people's lives.

Emperor Akihito will be the first living Japanese monarch to give up the throne in about 200 years.

A "gengo," or era name, is used for the length of an emperor's reign. The current Heisei era, which means "achieving peace," commenced on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, died.

In a rare video message in August 2016, Emperor Akihito, who turned 85 in December, expressed his strong desire to step down, citing concerns about his advancing age and declining health.

Conservative members of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party had demanded the new gengo be announced after the ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the enthronement of Emperor Akihito, slated for April 10, and also that a government ordinance on the era change should be promulgated only after the ascension of the new emperor.

But the government has decided that the era name should be unveiled a month before the imperial succession for the sake of computer system updates and that the ordinance should be issued by the current emperor on April 1.

Earlier in the week, Natsuo Yamaguchi, who heads the Komeito party, the LDP's junior coalition partner, said the next era name will be disclosed April 1 and become effective on May 1, when the prince ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Among other domestic issues, Abe stressed that he has no plan to dissolve the lower house amid speculation that he may do so for a simultaneous double election at the time of the upper house election in the summer.

An upper house election takes place every three years, in which half of the chamber's seats are contested, while the four-year term for the lower house is scheduled to expire in October 2021.

As for his long-cherished goal of revising Japan's pacifist Constitution, Abe maintained his position that discussions on the contentious political agenda should be deepened in the Diet and he seeks to gain a wide consensus irrespective of political parties.

While touching on foreign affairs, Abe said he wants to advance negotiations with Russia to conclude a post-World War II peace treaty.

In November last year, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to accelerate talks toward the conclusion of a peace pact based on a 1956 joint declaration in which Moscow promised to hand over two of the four disputed islands between the countries to Tokyo once it was signed.

The two countries have not clinched a postwar peace deal due to the dispute over the islets called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

"I will not prejudge the outcome of the negotiations, but I would like to advance them with President (Vladimir) Putin as much as possible," Abe said, adding he plans to visit Russia late this month.

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