• Kyodo, JIJI


Calendar, diary and fortune-telling businesses are anxiously awaiting for the government to announce the name of Japan’s next Imperial era, which is set to begin on May 1, 2019, the day after the Emperor abdicates.

In modern Japan, a gengō (era name) lasts for the length of an emperor’s reign and is widely used in calendars and official documents along with the standard Gregorian calendar. The government is expected to announce the new era name sometime next year to minimize any disruption to people’s lives.

Ryusho Takashima, chairman of the Tokyo-based fortune calendar company Takashima Ekidan, expressed concern about whether his company will be able to publish its products for 2019 on time.

The company publishes four fortune calendars comprising around 200,000 copies. Because it prints the new calendars in April for release around August, a late announcement could affect production, he said.

Takahashi Shoten Co., a major diary maker in Tokyo, omitted the era name in most of its mainstay items for 2018. As for 2019, it plans to print the new era name if it is announced by January, when it begins production.

“Our priority is to avert any confusion,” said company executive Takashi Okubo.

Calendar makers are especially paying attention to changes in holidays, including the Emperor’s birthday, which currently falls on Dec. 23. The birthday of Crown Prince Naruhito is Feb. 23.

“We want the information at an early stage,” said an official of JMA Management Center Inc., known for its Nolty diary products.

The government is expected to pick an era name composed of two kanji that are easy to read but have not been used in the past.

The history of gengō in Japan dates back to the seventh century. The first modern Japanese era was called Meiji (1868-1912), which was followed by Taisho (1912-1926), Showa (1926-1989) and Heisei.

The new era name could also affect companies registering trademarks. In January 1989, when Heisei began, the 118 applications filed for trademarks bearing the two characters set a monthly record, according to the Japan Patent Office. Heisei means “achieving peace.”

“An era name is widely known and easily remembered by people. It is highly possible that many businesses will try to register trademarks related to the new era name,” an official in charge of trademarks said.

Companies in the Japan Railways Group still use the era name to process train tickets and in other systems.

An official at Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) said it is holding discussions on the issue, including whether to continue using the Japanese system.

Electronics makers, automakers, and information and communications companies are unlikely to be affected greatly by such changes because many of them use the Western year for their products and services.

“Many of our products and services are based on the Western calendar year system,” said a Sony Corp. official.

“We don’t expect major impacts because our system uses the Western calendar year,” said an official at mobile phone carrier SoftBank Corp.

“The schedule was tight for the previous era name change from Showa to Heisei” nearly 30 years ago, an official at a major bank said. “This time, we’ll have sufficient preparation time.”

Japan Post Co. is watching carefully because it is concerned about the schedule for printing its New Year’s greeting cards.

Heisei was introduced on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after Emperor Akihito took the throne following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito — posthumously called Emperor Showa — earlier in the day, ending the Showa Era.

At retailers, there have been no plans to hold special sales campaigns relating to Emperor Akihito’s abdication and Crown Prince Naruhito’s succession.

“It would be impolite to do business by taking advantage of such events,” a senior official at a department store said. “For department stores, the Imperial family is a customer.”

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