• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga instructed his government Wednesday to draw up plans to stop using hanko seals on administrative documents, a tradition that has been criticized as outdated and necessitating face-to-face interaction that risks spreading the coronavirus.

The move, part of Suga’s push to improve bureaucratic efficiency, is expected to lead to more government services becoming available online.

“I want all ministries to compile a comprehensive review of their administrative procedures in the near future,” Suga told a meeting of the Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform, an advisory panel of members from the private sector and academics.

Hanko are widely used in Japan for signing contracts, business transactions and various administrative procedures, including enrolling in the national pension program.

As the seals need to be pressed onto physical copies of documents, they are seen as hindering efforts to maintain social distancing amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Of the more than 10,000 types of administrative procedures that require hanko, more than 90 percent can be simplified, according to Taro Kono, the minister in charge of administrative reform.

Kono has said he hopes to submit legislation to address the issue to next year’s ordinary Diet session, and that he also wants to reduce the use of fax machines.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Suga stressed the need for online medical consultations, which have been deregulated as a special measure against the coronavirus, to become a permanent option.

The prime minister, who took office in mid-September, also reiterated his push for distance learning to be made more widely available, saying such technology “should be taken full advantage of in the digital age.”

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