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Systems engineers relieved over advance notice of new era name, but schedule questioned

TOKYO -- Systems engineers expressed relief over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement Jan. 4 that Japan's next Imperial era name will be announced a month before it comes into effect, though some suggested the schedule for making the change may be too tight.

The new era name will take effect when Crown Prince Naruhito is enthroned on May 1 following the abdication of his father Emperor Akihito the day before. Japan uses the Imperial era name system, in which one era name is used during each emperor's reign, in addition to the Western calendar.

"With the announcement date finalized, we can draw up our plans at last," said an official at one company that provides computer system upgrades including era name changes.

The government at one point considered delaying the announcement date until mid-April or even later to make it closer to the enthronement day, to comply with calls from conservative legislators within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who were opposed to releasing the new era name in advance. Abe's announcement that the new name would be made public on April 1, therefore, delighted many worried workers at major systems engineering firms.

"We have no choice but to follow the government policy, so I was hoping that the next era name would be released as soon as possible," said an official of a firm tasked with the management of computer systems at central and local governments. "It's a big help that the announcement date was revealed at the beginning of the New Year."

Industry officials, however, remain concerned about possible staff shortages in dealing with the era name shift, as it falls during the busy season due to the regular change of fiscal years.

Tetsutaro Uehara, professor at Ritsumeikan University who served as senior deputy director of the ICT Standardization Division at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, hailed the government's plan to announce the new era name one month in advance, saying, "Considering the time needed to fix software in response to the new era name, it would have been impossible to carry out the work if the name was publicized just one or two weeks ahead."

Yet Uehara still expressed misgivings about whether one month is long enough for relevant companies. "Normally, engineers are in short supply in March and April due to the need to respond to companies that want to upgrade their systems in tandem with the start of the new fiscal year," he said. "Is it possible to secure sufficient personnel amid such a situation?"

The professor also points out that local governments will need ample time for test printing, as they generally use the Imperial era name in their paperwork. "Deficiencies are often detected during test printing. There may be local governments that cannot make it in time for the start of the new era name," he said.

(Japanese original by Tomo Yamaguchi, Osaka City News Department, and Koichi Kirino, Science & Environment News Department)

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