As use of the Gregorian calendar has become more prevalent in the postwar period, some see the Japanese era system — which has been in use for more than 1,300 years — as unnecessary and no longer relevant to modern society.
Some argue that the gengō system, which initially symbolized what was considered to be the emperor’s control of time, is inconvenient compared with the Gregorian calendar. Others say it contradicts the postwar Constitution that stipulates sovereign power resides with the people.
Asked which they prefer to use in their daily life, 39.8 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News opinion poll conducted in January said they want to use both gengō and the Gregorian calendar, while 24.3 percent opted for the former and 34.6 percent the latter.
The Japanese era system was first introduced in 645, but lost its legal basis when the country was defeated in World War II and occupied by the U.S.-led Allied forces from 1945.
In 1950, a Diet panel had full-fledged discussions for the first time on whether to keep or do away with the gengō system. The debate was rekindled in 1979 when the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda moved to legislate the era name system.
Forty years after the system became legal, there are still opponents to gengō.
“(Japanese society) is no longer controlled by an emperor,” said Hiroshi Kozen, professor emeritus of Chinese literature at Kyoto University and a member of the Japan Academy, an organization that recognizes eminent researchers.
“The era system should reflect people’s desires and we have to start from discussing why we need it,” the 82-year-old said.
Last Wednesday, three people — a lawyer from Nagano Prefecture, a journalist from Tokyo and a company executive — filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court to seek suspension of the era name change.
In the suit, the plaintiffs claimed changing the era name in every Imperial succession “destroys a sense of time held by each individual” and violates Article 13 of the Constitution that guarantees all of the people shall be respected as individuals.