National / Politics

Japanese government unlikely to name its next era until at least February 2019

Kyodo, Staff Report

The government is considering delaying the announcement of the name of the nation’s next era — or gengo — until February or later, giving up its initial plan to quickly deal with concerns over the name change, a government source said Tuesday.

The announcement of the era name to be used when Crown Prince Naruhito succeeds to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019, will likely come after the ceremony to mark the 30th year of Emperor Akihito’s reign, which will be held on Feb. 24 the same year, the source said.

The arrangement is expected to help address concerns that unveiling the name before the Emperor’s 30-year ceremony would create a situation of dual authority between the old and new emperors, the source said.

The government had previously floated the idea of unveiling the new name in the latter half of this year in order to minimize the impact of the succession on the public and government services.

“It is not good to have a situation where the public thinks there are two era names,” said a source close to the Prime Minister’s Office. “It would be favorable if the time between the announcement of the new era name and the actual change is short.”

A ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker also said that the announcement of the new name before the 30-year ceremony “could rain on the celebratory mood.”

An era lasts for the length of an emperor’s reign and is widely used in calendars and official documents along with the Gregorian calendar.

The current Heisei era, meaning “achieving peace,” began on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after the death of Emperor Showa, the father of Emperor Akihito.

For the incoming era, the government is set to choose a name that is easy to read and has never been used before. Era names are traditionally composed of two Chinese characters.

The practice originated in ancient China, but historians say Japan is the only country that still adheres to it, as opposed to the internationally used Gregorian, or Western, calendar.

The use of the era naming tradition remains pervasive in Japanese society, taking precedence over the Gregorian calendar in official IDs and documents from driver’s licenses to health insurance cards and bank books.

Before and during the war, an emperor used to have the ultimate responsibility to determine the name of a new era upon his accession, as per the old version of Imperial House Law.

But Japan’s World War II surrender resulted in a major rewrite of the law under Allied Occupation, which made no mention of the era system.

Deprived of legal status, the tradition faced the possibility of extinction, sparking mixed reactions.

The Science Council of Japan, for one, petitioned the government to abolish the system in 1950, labeling it impractical in that it makes Japanese historical events hard to keep track of in a global context.

However, in 1979, after an opinion poll a few years earlier by the Cabinet Office found that 87.5 percent of the public used gengo in their daily lives, the Diet passed a law officially authorizing the Cabinet to designate new eras.