TOKYO – Japan’s government is holding top-secret meetings to decide a new era name for soon-to-be-emperor Naruhito, the crown prince who will succeed the Chrysanthemum throne from his father May 1.
Emperor Akihito is abdicating on April 30, with his era of “Heisei” coming to an end.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government later Monday will unveil the era name, or “gengo,” for Naruhito’s reign.
It comes a month ahead of the switch to allow the government, businesses and other sectors time to adjust to the change that still affects many parts of Japan’s society, even though the system is not compulsory and the emperor has no political power under Japan’s postwar constitution.
Under the 1979 era name law, Abe has appointed a panel of experts on classical Chinese and Japanese literature to nominate two to five names for top officials to choose from. The names must meet the strict criteria — easy to read and write but not commonly or previously used for an era name.
Japanese media have scrambled to get scoops out of a new era name. Rumors included “Ankyu,” which uses the same Chinese character as in Abe’s family name, though it is unlikely to be the choice.
The name selection procedure started in mid-March when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga asked a handful of unidentified scholars to nominate two to five era names each. Suga hasn’t made clear how he will present the new name, but hinted he may follow his late predecessor Keizo Obuchi, who is remembered for holding up framed calligraphy of “Heisei” in 1989 at the first televised announcement of an era name.
While a growing number of Japanese prefer the Western calendar over the Japanese system in a highly digitalized and globalized society, the era name is still widely used in government and business documents. Elders often use it to identify their generations.
Discussing and guessing new era names in advance is not considered a taboo this time because Akihito is abdicating. Era name change is also a time for many Japanese to reflect on the outgoing and incoming decades.
Akihito’s era of “Heisei,” which means “achieving peace,” was the first without a war in Japan’s modern history, but is also remembered as lost years of economic deflation and natural disasters.
Heisei was the first era name decided by the government under the postwar constitution, in which the emperor was stripped of political power and had no say over the choice. Still, the government, with its highly secretive and sensitive handling of the process, is underscoring that “the emperor has power in an invisible, subtle way,” says Hirohito Suzuki, a Toyo University sociologist.
Era name changes are creating businesses for both the outgoing and the incoming. Anything dubbed “last of Heisei” attracts Akihito fans, while others are waiting to submit marriage certificates or filing other official registration until the new era starts. Analysts say the era change that expands the “golden week” holidays to 10 days on May 1 could buoy tourism and other recreational spending.
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