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Foreign Minister Kono tones down rhetoric on using Western calendar year over era year

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Jan. 20, 2019. (Mainichi/Shin Yamamoto)

TOKYO -- Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that he would thoroughly implement the use of Western calendar years in diplomatic documents at a press conference on the afternoon of April 2. But he also said that it did not signal a great change from existing rules, hinting that "gengo" Imperial era names would be used in domestic administrative documents.

Referring to diplomatic documents, Kono explained, "There is no need to add the era year in parentheses after the Western calendar year, or to convert Western calendar years to era years in the case of vertical text." As for domestic administrative documents, he said, "Not all of them will be in Western years."

This appears to be a change from Kono's earlier moves toward making the Western calendar year the standard at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to eliminate the trouble of converting the Western calendar year to the gengo era year. This apparent about-face is believed to be in response to protests from the ruling coalition, which places great importance on the use of the era year.

Members of the ruling camp made it clear they were unhappy when it emerged that with the exception of accounting- and Cabinet meeting-related documents that required coordination with other government ministries and agencies, the Foreign Ministry had been considering using Western calendar years in all other documents.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on the morning of April 2 that he had not heard that the Foreign Ministry had firmed up its plans to wholly implement the Western calendar year. Meanwhile, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Executive Acting Secretary-General Koichi Hagiuda said, "Converting the Western calendar year to the era year is not such a difficult task. I hope that bureaucratic institutions will value era names in their domestic administrative documents."

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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