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Conservative lawmakers argue against early announcement of new era name

TOKYO -- Conservative politicians are arguing against a government plan to announce the name of the new era one month before its official start on May 1, 2018 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Imperial Throne.

The Diet members, affiliated with the conservative body Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), agreed in June that the announcement of the name of the new era should be the day the period officially begins. In response, the bipartisan group's leader, Keiji Furuya, who also heads the House of Representatives Steering Committee, presented the conservative legislators' view to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Aug. 6, saying that it is customary for a new Emperor to announce the name of a new era. Suga responded that the issue is being reviewed "from multiple angles."

In May, the government instructed ministries and agencies to make preparations with the expectation of bringing forward the announcement date by one month to secure enough time to make necessary adjustments to public and private documents and computer systems. The government envisions the era name to be promulgated shortly after its announcement.

However, the Constitution states that "advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state," and Cabinet orders, like laws, must be signed by the Emperor before their issuance. It would therefore be the current Emperor who would sign a Cabinet order if the new era name were promulgated before its official introduction. This arrangement is what is drawing criticism from conservative politicians.

"There is no precedent of a new era name being promulgated under the name of a previous emperor," said a House of Councillors member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. "Doing so would maintain the previous emperor's influence and create a 'double authority' situation."

This has not been an issue with the change of era names based on Imperial demise. Emperor Akihito will be the first emperor to abdicate since the start of the Meiji era in 1868, when the principle of "one reign, one era" was introduced, and this situation is prompting a response that meets the requirements of the times. The rule of Imperial accession established during the Meiji era stipulates that the name of an era is promulgated following "chokujo" (an Imperial decision).

Meanwhile, the Era Name Act, which was introduced in 1979 under the current Constitution based on the principles of popular sovereignty and a symbolic Emperor, stipulates that the name of an era is to be determined by means of a Cabinet order. There is no reference to the Emperor's involvement in the procedure.

The introduction of the Era Name Act was led by a conservative organization preceding the Japan Conference, and a senior official at the prime minister's office explained, "The current procedures follow the spirit of the law, which was created by this conservative organization."

A person associated with the government suggested that the conservative lawmakers are protesting the government's arrangement for the announcement of the new era name "because they want a return to the system under the Meiji Constitution that stipulated, 'The Emperor is the head of the Empire.'" The government therefore continues to be dismissive toward arguments for promulgating the new era name on May 1 next year.

(Japanese original by Minami Nomaguchi and Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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