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Cabinet Office admits keeping Heisei era name change documents till 2044 'inappropriate'

The Central Government Building No. 4 that houses the Cabinet Office is seen in this file photo in the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on April 26, 2017. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Cabinet Office has acknowledged its decision to transfer documents related to the era name change to Heisei in 1989 to the National Archives of Japan at the end of March 2044 -- 55 years after their creation -- is inappropriate.

The Public Records and Archives Management Act stipulates that public documents should be transferred to the National Archives one to 30 years after they were "prepared or obtained" by relevant government offices. Papers moved to the archives are then made public in principle.

Japan uses the Imperial era name system, which designates one era name for each emperor, along with the Western calendar. A new era name after the current Heisei will be introduced on May 1 with the Imperial succession from Emperor Akihito to Crown Prince Naruhito.

The Cabinet Office's General Affairs Division, which manages the documents on the process of selecting Heisei as the new era name, stated that the papers were prepared in 1989 and setting the transfer date in 2044 was not reflective of the actual nature of the documents.

The division had set the transfer data in March 2044 based on a judgment that the documents were "newly obtained" in 2013 when the office became responsible for administrative work related to era names. The new start date would therefore be April 1, 2014, with a retention period of 30 years. Experts have criticized this arrangement as "clearly evasive of the law."

The Mainichi Shimbun reported the earlier Cabinet Office decision on Jan. 21, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga instructed officials to check on how those documents were prepared. The Cabinet Office then announced on Jan. 24 that it changed the beginning of the retention period for the papers to April 1, 1989. This means that those papers will now be transferred to the archives at the end of March this year. The public records act, however, allows government offices to extend the retention period for documents needed for their work after reporting the reason and extension period to the prime minister.

Motohiro Sakata, head of the General Affairs Division, explained to a press conference on Jan. 24 that deciding on the retention period "based on the timing the documents were prepared in 1989 is more reflective of the actual nature" of the papers. He added that the handling of the records will be reviewed, with an extension of the retention period as an option. The official did not elaborate on how long the extension may be, nor whether the office will ask the archives to restrict public viewing of the documents after the transfer.

(Japanese original by Takanori Noguchi, Political News Department)

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