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Japan govt to delay release of documents on era name change

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe government intends to delay by at least one year the release of public documents related to the process of changing the era name from Showa to Heisei in January 1989, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

Public documents that have exceeded their retention period must, in principle, be made public, but the government has decided that not postponing their scheduled release at the end of March could create confusion during the upcoming era name change on May 1.

The government will soon formally decide on the length of the delay, the sources said.

Documents related to the changing of the era name to Heisei were compiled on dates including Jan. 7, 1989 — the day Emperor Showa died and the government decided on the new era name.

Based on the Public Records and Archives Management Law, public documents are retained for a maximum of 30 years. The government must then decide to transfer the documents to the National Archives of Japan, dispose of the documents or extend their retention period.

If the government receives a request to disclose information in public documents while they are being retained, it can refuse to give this information in cases such as when disclosure could interfere with administrative matters. However, after the documents have been transferred to the National Archives of of Japan, they are scheduled to be made public in principle, except for personal information and details pertaining to national security.

Consequently, the government intends to extend the retention period for documents linked to the changing of the era name to Heisei and postpone the date from which such information will become available to the public.

The government is preparing to decide on the new era name on April 1 and for the start of the new era on May 1. The government appears to be concerned that if details of the process behind the selection of the Heisei name come to light, a media frenzy could erupt over the upcoming name change.

“Ideally, the change in era name will go ahead in a quiet atmosphere,” a government source said.

The retention period of public documents is counted from the fiscal year following the year in which the papers were created.

The government had retained documents related to the changing of the era name to Heisei separately at the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretariat. However, from fiscal 2013, the Cabinet Office was made responsible for retaining all these documents. Based on this reasoning, the government set the retention period at 30 years from April 2014 — meaning the documents would be retained until the end of March 2044.

Following criticism of this approach, the government decided in January to change the retention period to start in April 1989 and expire at the end of March 2019.Speech

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