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Gov't may unofficially announce new era name before Crown Prince accedes to throne

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako are seen at a spring garden party at the Akasaka Imperial Garden on April 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The government is considering a plan to unofficially decide and immediately announce the next era name before Crown Prince Naruhito accedes to the Imperial Throne on May 1, 2019, people familiar with the matter told the Mainichi Shimbun.

The era name will be changed from the current Heisei when the Crown Prince accedes to the throne after his father Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30 next year.

The government intends to hold a meeting of an expert panel that April to decide a new era name before the government announces it. The Cabinet will approve an ordinance to change the era name on May 1. The new emperor will sign the ordinance as part of his official duties.

By doing so, the government will show consideration to conservatives who are opposed to announcing a new era name in advance. Conservatives within and outside the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are concerned that if Emperor Akihito were to sign the decree, it would undermine the inseparability of the new emperor and the new era name.

The government is considering announcing the new era name either after the second round of nationwide local elections on April 21, or around a week before the Crown Prince's enthronement. However, an individual linked to the Cabinet Secretariat was skeptical of the timing, saying, "One week or 10 days is too short to adjust computer systems."

On the other hand, conservatives are concerned that if there is a long gap between the unofficial decision on the new era name and its approval by the Cabinet, there could be opposition to the name. The government is expected to launch efforts to coordinate views on the matter.

The government instructed ministries and agencies this past May to make preparations to adjust their computer systems on the assumption that the new era name will be announced a month before the new emperor's enthronement. At the time, the government explained that it would take about a month to adjust computer systems in both the public and private sectors.

However, conservatives have argued that the announcement of the new era name during the current Heisei era could lead to the coexistence of two era names, running counter to the principle that Japan has a single era name for the reign of each emperor. The plan on the decision and advance announcement of a new era name was worked out as a compromise between the government's policy and conservatives' opinions.

According to those linked to the LDP, former House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki proposed the idea to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who responded that he would consider it.

An individual related to the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference), a conservative lobby group, said the organization would accept the government's plan, saying, "Respect for tradition and efforts to lessen the burden on the public are not in conflict."


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