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Japan could get new era name on Jan. 1, 2019

The government is considering setting Jan. 1, 2019, as the start of a new era under the new emperor and giving it a new name, it has been learned. The move comes in response to Emperor Akihito's announcement on his apparent wish to abdicate and his reference to the year 2018 as what is widely believed to be the year he wishes to step down.

Japan uses the Gregorian calendar together with an era corresponding to the period of an emperor on the Imperial Throne, and 2017 is the 29th year of Japan's Heisei era. The government is looking into introducing a new era name on Jan. 1, 2019, at the same time of bringing Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne.

The government apparently views it preferable for a new era name to start on Jan. 1 in order to avoid causing confusion to people's lives. The government also took into consideration the time needed to prepare for the ceremony and other events related to the enthronement. The government is poised to submit related bills to the Diet this spring or later.

At a press conference on Jan. 10, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "An expert panel (to the government on the abdication issue) is currently discussing the matter calmly without prejudgment."

In a video message released in August last year, Emperor Akihito said, "A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei." Takashi Mikuriya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and deputy head of the expert panel on abdication, also said, "Surmising from the Emperor's message released in August (2016), 2018 would be a possible benchmark year."

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed the timing of the Emperor's abdication and the content of the related bills with officials including Suga and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita. It is believed that the specific date of abdication will unlikely be included in the related bills that will be submitted to the regular Diet session to be convened on Jan. 20, and that the date will instead be set under a government ordinance.

The government is planning to introduce a special law allowing Emperor Akihito to retire. The expert panel is set to release papers on the points of contention over the abdication issue on Jan. 23 based on its discussions thus far. The papers will include both a proposal for special legislation allowing the current emperor to retire and one for adding legal grounds for permitting abdication as an exception under a special law to a supplementary clause to the Imperial House Law.

Diet discussions on abdication will start at a joint meeting of the heads and vice heads of both chambers scheduled for Jan. 16. The meeting will be followed by a hearing of opinions from each parliamentary faction by the heads and vice heads of both houses and other officials before full-scale deliberations are held on the agenda.

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