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PM Abe confirms new era name to be announced April 1 in 2019's 1st press conference

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at his first formal press conference of the year, in Ise, Mie Prefecture, on Jan. 4, 2019. (Mainichi)

ISE, Mie Prefecture -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed during his first news conference of 2019 that Japan's next era name would be announced on April 1, a month before Crown Prince Naruhito's scheduled ascension to the throne on May 1.

Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30, bringing the Heisei era to an end.

Speaking in the central Japanese city of Ise, Mie Prefecture, following a visit to Ise Grand Shrine, Abe also stated that the government plans to have Emperor Akihito sign the Cabinet order promulgating the new era name. The April 1 announcement will be the first time a new era name has been revealed before an Imperial succession.

The prime minister said the early announcement was intended to "reduce the impact on the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people as much as possible." In particular, the government decided to make the era name public a month in advance to avoid disruptions, including those caused by needing to speedily update company computer and other systems to reflect the change.

Abe expressed his intention to emulate the procedures taken during the transition to the Heisei era in 1989, stating, "The government will do everything in its power so that the people of Japan can celebrate this historic Imperial succession together."

Previously, conservatives in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had been against the early announcement, arguing that it went against the "one emperor, one era" system that has been in practice since the Meiji period (1868-1912). Later, however, they agreed to the early revelation, but in order to maintain the "inseparability of the emperor and his era name," they requested that the new emperor sign and promulgate the Cabinet order with the new name. Abe only explained that the promulgation would be carried out according to the existing system.

On peace treaty negotiations with Russia -- including on sovereignty over the disputed Northern Territories, four islands off the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido -- the prime minister stated, "We should not pass on this problem, which has continued for over 70 years after the end of World War II, to the next generation. (Russian) President Putin shares my dedication to ending the problem with certainty." Abe made it clear that he would be traveling to Russia at the end of January to push along the negotiations.

Abe also voiced his expectation for advancing discussions to revise the Constitution. "Putting forward concrete draft revisions and facilitating lively debate on the floor of the Diet is the responsibility of this country's lawmakers," he said. "I hope that we can cross party lines to come to the most comprehensive agreement possible." Changing the supreme law is one of the conservative politician's top goals.

Of the possibility of the prime minister dissolving the House of Representatives at the same time as the planned House of Councillors election this summer, Abe said that the administration must resist becoming too rigid. "The most important thing is have the flexibility to react to any situation," he said, but then added, "The thought of dissolving (the lower house) and having a general election has never crossed my mind."

(Japanese original by Kazumasa Kawabe, Political News Department)

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