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Gov't docs release on previous era name change to be delayed

The National Archives of Japan is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 24, 2018. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- The government is poised to postpone disclosing records on how the present era name of Heisei was chosen to beyond the end of March, in an effort to avoid impacting the selection process for the next era name.

The Heisei era will come to an end on April 30 when Emperor Akihito abdicates the throne, and a new era will commence with the ascension of his son Crown Prince Naruhito the following day. The next era name has yet to be announced.

The government was originally scheduled to transfer documents on the January 1989 era name change from Showa to Heisei to the National Archives of Japan at the end of this month. Official documents transferred to the archives are in principle available to the public.

The decision is based on the Public Records and Archives Management Act and an order to enforce the law. These stipulate that, following an administrative organ's decision on whether to comply with a document disclosure request, the retention period for that record must be extended by a year.

News organizations and others have been requesting the Heisei era name change records since the beginning of this year, and the government will continue deliberations on whether to release them later this year.

The Cabinet Office has declined to release the relevant documents over fears they could influence the next era name selection process. However, some in the prime minister's office believe there is no problem with releasing the documents as long as it doesn't affect that process. The relevant documents are therefore expected to be transferred to the National Archives sometime in the next several years.

The documents in question are believed to record who came up with the Heisei name, and identify scholars commissioned by the government to select the era name to follow Showa.

The Public Records and Archives Management Act and the enforcement order require the government to transfer historically important official documents to the National Archives, and in principle release them after one to 30 years after compilation or acquisition.

However, administrative organs can extend the retention period after reporting the reason and extension period to the prime minister, if this is needed for their official duties.

Administrative bodies can recommend restrictions on disclosure of official documents transferred to the National Archives from the viewpoint of protecting personal information and other matters. In such cases, whether to disclosure the documents is left up to the head of the archives.

The documents on the process of selecting the Heisei era name were compiled in 1989. However, the Cabinet Office's general affairs division set the initial retention beginning date for April 1, 2014, and the timing of transferring the documents to the archives for the end of March in 2044 on the grounds that the documents were "acquired" in 2013.

The Cabinet Office admitted that the measure was inappropriate after the Mainichi Shimbun reported this past January that the transfer of the documents to the National Archives had been delayed without going through proper procedures.

The Cabinet Office then brought forward the beginning of the retention period to April 1, 1989, and the transfer date to the end of March this year.

(Japanese original by Takenori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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