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Gov't to record and archive selection process for new era name

A committee on the procedures for selecting the new era name meets at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on March 29, 2019. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is seated second from right. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- The government is poised to keep records of the series of procedures for selecting the new era name set to be announced on April 1 and retain the records as official documents, it has been learned.

The new era name will officially be implemented on May 1 when Crown Prince Naruhito ascends to the Imperial Throne following his father Emperor Akihito's abdication the day before.

The records will include the names of academics and experts who were commissioned by the government to devise candidate era names, the shortlisted era names after the government narrowed them down to several, and the content of the meetings on the day of the era name selection.

When the current era name of Heisei was selected on Jan. 7, 1989, the procedures were apparently not documented or archived in detail. This time, the government will keep the records of the processes as important official documents based on the Public Records and Archives Management Act that came into effect in April 2011.

The government will not publicly release the name of the expert whose era name proposal was adopted, or the other candidate names that were not picked. However, the Public Records and Archives Management Act stipulates that official documents must be disclosed in principle if they are transferred to the National Archives of Japan after the expiry of their retention period -- ranging between one and 30 years. It is therefore possible the documents regarding the selection process for the new era name will be disclosed in the future.

When the upcoming era's name is announced on April 1, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will raise a board bearing the name in ink. The government is considering transferring it to the National Archives to be included among "specified historical public records and archives" that require permanent retention in principle, and allowing the public to see it as early as possible.

The government on March 14 commissioned academics and experts in Japanese literature, Chinese classics, Japanese history and Oriental history to come up with candidate era names, and is currently in the process of narrowing them down to several shortlists. Come April 1, the government will convene a gathering of experts from various fields in the morning, where Suga will present the shortlisted era name proposals. After hearing the opinions of the heads and vice heads of both houses of the Diet, the new era name will be finalized at a meeting of all Cabinet members. A Cabinet meeting will then follow to approve a decree sanctioning the new era name. After all these steps, Suga will unveil the new era name to the public.

The government is planning to create official documents recording the content of the relevant meetings, the candidate era names that were presented to the gatherings of experts, and the names of experts who proposed those names. However, among the various selection procedures, the government decided not to archive how it narrowed down the proposed names or the candidate names that failed to be shortlisted.

When the Heisei era started back in 1989, the Public Records and Archives Management Act had yet to be instituted and the management of official documents was generally shoddy. The whereabouts of original copy of a board bearing the ink-written Chinese characters of Heisei, which then Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi hoisted when announcing the era name, was temporarily unknown, but it turned out to have been kept privately at the residence of then Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.

The government recently extended the retention period of records regarding the process of selecting the era name of Heisei by five years, from the end of March 2019 to the end of March 2024, meaning they will remain confidential until then. It is possible, however, that details on the selection process do not exist. In light of the past precedent, the government decided that it "should keep records of what needs to be kept as records," according to a senior official at the prime minister's office.

(Japanese original by Minami Nomaguchi and Katsuya Takahashi, Political News Department)

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