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New Imperial era name likely to be decided without public consultation

Kyodo

The government is not planning to solicit public opinion about the next Imperial era name should Emperor Akihito relinquish the throne, a government source said Sunday.

An era name, or gengo, remains in use for the length of an emperor’s reign, with the current period under Emperor Akihito known as Heisei.

The era changed from Showa to Heisei on Jan. 8, 1989, a day after his father Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, died. The process of selecting an era name, regarded as a matter of urgency, was expedited to circumvent the normally required process of incorporating public submissions when passing an ordinance.

But the succession from Emperor Akihito to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, could take place at a predetermined date because the government plans to announce the new era name at least several months before the Emperor’s envisioned abdication. He is 83

The government source acknowledged that seeking public comment improves transparency, but also expressed concern that it might not be able to come up with a “satisfactory” name in time if the opinions presented diverge too widely.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is reportedly seeking to pass special legislation in the Diet that would allow the Emperor to pass on the Chrysanthemum Throne without dying, a move that will bring the Heisei Era to an end.

An idea to change the era name on the first day of 2019 has been floated.

Changes in era names affect the public’s lives in various ways, because calendars and official documents often designate years by era name with or without reference to the Gregorian date.

Systems engineers and businesses such as calendar makers will be required to reflect the change.

Currently, death is the only path to succession because the Imperial House Law lacks a provision for abdication.

The government began addressing the possibility of abdication for Emperor Akihito after he hinted at his desire to do so in a rare video message last summer. Any abdication would be Japan’s first since Emperor Kokaku did so some 200 years ago.

In selecting the Heisei name, the government sought ideas behind closed doors from specialists in oriental studies and Chinese literature.

But after wartime Emperor Hirohito died, the name Heisei was selected in one day. The government officially solicited ideas for a next era name from intellectuals and presented three ideas to a panel of experts. The decision was made at a Cabinet meeting the same day.

The government is not legally obliged to abide by the outcome of public consultation but is required to give thorough consideration to suggestions and present its opinions on the proposals.