No public consultation planned to decide Japan’s new Imperial era name

The Japanese government is not planning to ask for the public’s opinion on what the next Imperial era name should be if Emperor Akihito abdicates in order to speed up the process, a government source was cited as saying.

Called a “gengo” in Japanese, an Imperial era name is valid for the entirety of an Emperor’s reign but changes with a new Emperor. The name is often used on calendars and official documents without reference to the Gregorian date.

The current period under Emperor Akihito is known as “Heisei”. It changed from “Showa” on 8 January 1989, the day after the death of the Emperor Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa.

Usually, a new era name is selected by a process of incorporating public submissions when passing an ordinance. Although the government is not legally obliged to abide by the outcome of public consultation, it is required to give thorough consideration to suggestions and present its opinions on the proposals.

When Emperor Hirohito died, however, the selection of the era name was fast-tracked as a matter of urgency. Instead of asking the public, the government officially solicited ideas for the next era’s name from intellectuals and presented three of them to a panel of experts.

This time around, time is also a concern. The succession from Emperor Akihito to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, could take place at a predetermined date because the government plans to announce the new era name at least several months before the Emperor’s envisioned abdication, The Japan Times reported.

“The government source acknowledged that seeking public comment improves transparency, but also expressed concern that it might not be able to come up with a “satisfactory” name in time if the opinions presented diverge too widely,” the newspaper said.

Since 83-year-old Emperor Akihito hinted that he would like to resign and pass the Chrysanthemum throne onto his son in a rare video message last summer, Japan has been anticipating the need for a new Imperial era name. Businesses and calendar-makers require advance notice of the name change which will have a number of effects upon the Japanese calendar. The date of the Emperor’s Birthday national holiday will probably have to be changed to reflect the new emperor’s date of birth, for instance.

“Changes in era names have affected people’s lives in various ways, including administrative papers and official documents such as driver’s licenses and health insurance cards,” The Japan Times said.

“Shortly after the nation changed from the Meiji Era to the Taisho Era in 1912, following Emperor Meiji’s death, names inspired by the new era name, such as those containing the Chinese character used, became the most common new names for babies, according to Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co., which compiles an annual ranking of the most popular baby names.”

To allow the current Emperor to abdicate and pass on the throne without dying (the 1947 Imperial House Law currently lacks a provision regarding abdication meaning only posthumous succession is allowed), the Japanese government is reportedly seeking to pass special legislation in the Diet.

Source: The Japan Times

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