UPDATE1: Era name for new emperor may be announced ahead of accession: sources

CULTURE

The Japanese government may announce a new era name for the next emperor around half a year before he takes over the throne, possibly on Jan. 1, 2019, in line with 83-year-old Emperor Akihito's desire to abdicate, government sources said Wednesday.

The floated idea to announce the new era name for Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, ahead of his accession is aimed at curbing the impact of changing era names on people's lives by setting preparation time, according to the sources.

An era name is declared for the reign of each emperor under law in Japan.

By making the era name public in advance, businesses and government officials would secure enough time to prepare for the name change by adjusting various printed matter, including calendars, and official documents, the sources said.

The government is also eyeing the possibility for the emperor to step down on the last day of 2018, putting an end to his Heisei era of 30 years, in light of his remarks in his video message in August, saying, "A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei," they said.

The current era of Heisei, meaning "achieving peace," commenced on Jan. 8, 1989, a day after the previous Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, passed away and Emperor Akihito ascended the throne in line with procedure.

But the preceding names of Showa, which means "enlightenment and harmony," as well as Taisho, deriving from an ancient Chinese classic, came into effect on the day of each monarch's accession.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is considering formulating an ordinance to enable the use of the new era name from the beginning of the new year and upon the new emperor's enthronement, the sources said.

On Wednesday, a six-member government advisory panel tasked with examining the potential abdication of the emperor said it will release an interim report of its findings on Jan. 23.

The group plans to assess the pros and cons of the situation, including ways to alleviate the aged emperor's burden from duties, panel member Takashi Mikuriya said after a meeting at the prime minister's office.

The panel, chaired by Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation, is expected to make its final proposal in spring.

The government envisions enacting special legislation applying only to the current emperor, instead of creating a permanent system by revising the Imperial House Law, which lacks a provision regarding abdication.

It hopes to submit it to an ordinary Diet session to be convened later this month a bill for the legislation.

The heads and deputy heads of the Diet's two chambers plan to gather next Monday to begin discussions on how the legislative body should handle the special legislation.

"I think it's important to deepen understanding of the people over the topic, by presenting issues and challenges in an easily understood manner," Mikuriya, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Tokyo, said in explaining the aim of the upcoming report.

Last year, the panel heard opinions of 16 experts on the Constitution, the Imperial Household system and other fields on such matters as the feasibility of formulating special legislation or creating a permanent system for emperors to retire.

During the panel's eighth gathering Wednesday, one of the participants said that enacting special legislation is preferable to seeking a permanent system by revising the Imperial House Law, saying "special legislation is likely to have fewer risks as the Diet can proceed with cautious deliberations in the context of the times, reflecting the people's will," according to Mikuriya.

The issue came to public attention after the emperor indicated his desire to abdicate and hand over the throne to the crown prince in a rare video message televised across Japan last summer.

The advisory panel was established in September following the video message.

==Kyodo

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