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Editorial: Gov't must take care to avoid confusion over new era name

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated Jan. 4 that his Cabinet will approve and announce a new era name on April 1. The new name, to follow the current name of Heisei, will go into effect on May 1 when the new Emperor ascends to the throne.

Prime Minister Abe explained to reporters that the new era name was being announced one month before its implementation "to reduce the impact on the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people as much as possible."

Japan uses the Imperial era name system, in which one era name is used for the duration of an emperor's reign, along with the Western calendar.

In spite of the prior announcement, there will be very little time to update public and private computer systems, and the tight schedule could cause confusion. Companies will have to throw their weight into completing the revisions. We want the government to pay as much attention as possible so that the daily lives of the people can proceed as normally as possible.

Initially, the government was considering announcing the new era name sometime during the summer of 2018 to set aside enough time to avoid confusion associated with the era name change. However, conservatives warned that making an announcement that early would channel people's attention toward the new Emperor and create a situation of "double authority." Out of consideration for this concern, the government decided to delay the announcement.

Conservatives, who form the main support base for the administration of Prime Minister Abe, were in fact opposed to any early announcement, and strongly wanted the new era name to be approved by the Cabinet and promulgated by a Cabinet order signed by the new Emperor. They sought an arrangement under which Imperial succession and an era name change would be conducted simultaneously, based on the traditional principle of "one emperor, one era."

Inside the government, officials initially considered separating the Cabinet decision on the new era name and its promulgation through a Cabinet order by several weeks, and having the new Emperor sign the order. However, Cabinet orders are usually promulgated within several days of the Cabinet's approval, and the Constitution prohibits the emperor's involvement in political affairs. Government officials thus concluded it would not be appropriate to give special treatment to a Cabinet order to decide the new era name.

It was appropriate for the government to have decided to have the current Emperor sign the Cabinet order, rather than having the new Emperor do so. Nevertheless, as it is leaving just one month to implement the change, we cannot say it is giving top priority to the lives and livelihoods of the people of Japan.

This time, prior preparations could have been made for the era name change. The government, however, could not make sufficient use of this opportunity. With an increasing number of people using the Western calendar, a delay in the switch could be a factor in preventing the new era name from being widely used by the public.

The April 1 Cabinet decision on the new era name will be made based on opinions presented by experts on a government-sanctioned panel on era names, and interviews with top officials of both chambers of the Diet. While the schedule is tight, the government will have more time to prepare than during the previous Imperial succession that ushered in the Heisei era. We hope the government will consider a more open procedure and method of introducing the new era name, without just following precedents.

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