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Local governments are accelerating efforts to scrap the use of hanko seals in line with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s focus on digitalizing administrative procedures.

A number of local heads have expressed their backing for the initiative by the Suga administration, which began about a month ago. Meanwhile, leaders of communities hosting hanko manufacturers are increasingly frustrated at the trend, saying that seals should not be viewed as a symbolic obstacle to digitalization.

As of the end of September, the municipal government of Fukuoka made the use of hanko unnecessary for some 3,800 types of administrative procedure documents.

With Mayor Soichiro Takashima spearheading reform efforts, Fukuoka already processed 73.7 percent of its administrative work online as of the end of March.

A corporate employee in her 30s who visited the office of the city’s Chuo Ward called the moves “helpful,” as she had to revisit the office before when she forgot to bring her hanko.

A Fukuoka Municipal Government official predicted that online administrative procedures “will become a trend among all local governments in Japan amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.”

On Monday, a group of governors proposed that the central government shift administrative services to become fully online in principle. The proposal was made at an online meeting of a National Governors’ Association task force for the digitalization of society.

The governors said that the central government should enable residents to use My Number social security and taxation identification cards via smartphones.

In order to make sure that everyone receive benefits from digitalization equally, the task force demanded that the national government improve fiber-optic networks and provide support to elderly and low-income citizens.

Last Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly approved a revision of an ordinance for promoting the digitalization of administrative procedures. The metropolitan government plans to allow residents of the capital to submit applications online for all procedures under its jurisdiction.

The Tokyo government plans to abolish the use of hanko by the end of fiscal 2020 for documents currently requiring seals.

In late August, the Aichi Prefectural Government started going over its administrative procedures with the aim of scrapping the use of hanko. It will accelerate the work based on the central government’s policy.

“Administrative procedures can basically be done without seals,” Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said.

On Oct. 1, the municipal government of Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, established the new post of “chief digital officer,” aiming to resolve issues the city faces through digitalization. NTT Data Corp. President Yo Honma, a native of Sakata, was made the first appointee to the role.

Meanwhile, Kotaro Nagasaki, governor of Yamanashi Prefecture, which is a major hanko-producing area, urged the central government to not seek to abolish hanko easily.

While showing understanding for the efforts to do away with hanko in administrative procedures, Nagasaki is set to call on the state government to come up with measures to help the hanko industry survive, including digitizing seals and developing new markets such as in other Asian countries.

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