Japanese imperial era targeted as potential source of confusion.

After Japan opened up to the rest of the world at the end of its feudal era, it much adopted the international standards of time-keeping. 24-hour days and 365-day years were part of the country’s modernization, as was the anno Domini (AD) numbering system for years.

However, Japan didn’t let go of all its temporal traditions, as it hung onto the concept of gengo, which counts years by their order in each Japanese imperial era. For example, 2018 is also Heisei 30, since it’s the 30th year of the reign of Emperor Akihito. While writing the AD year is often acceptable for paperwork in Japan, some documents specifically require the gengo year to be displayed, such a Japanese driver’s license.

▼ Highlighted in blue is the license’s expiration date, March 11, Heisei 27 (which converts to 2015).

However, Japan’s National Police Agency (which has jurisdiction over driver’s licenses) is proposing a change. Starting next year, it wants driver’s licenses to instead have their expiration dates written according to the western calendar.

Some people assumed this was because Emperor Akihito will be abdicating his position as emperor next year on May 1. Since the name of the new era has yet to be decided, new and recently issued driver’s licenses currently have their expirations listed as things such as “Heisei 34,” but that year is never going to occur, since Heisei 31 will be the era’s end.

But it turns out that’s not the reason at all. Instead, the National Police Agency says the impetus for its proposal is an increasing number of foreign-born Japanese residents acquiring Japanese driver’s licenses, and for the sake of greater clarity it believes the expiration date should be listed by its AD year, seeing as how no country outside Japan uses the gengo system.

▼ If we were ranking the current popularity of Japanese cultural exports, sushi would be number one, anime number two, and gengo number 3,491.

Oddly enough, the agency isn’t planning to scrub gengo from driver’s licenses entirely. Japanese driver’s licenses also include the bearer’s date of birth and the licenses date of issue, and the National Police Agency wants to keep both of those listed by their gengo year, just like they are now.

So why change only the expiration date? Odds are the agency figures the expiration date is the one that foreign drivers are going to need to refer to. They obviously don’t need the license to tell them their own birth dates, and the date of issue is primarily their for civil servants’ benefit. On the other hand, drivers themselves need to be able to easily reference when their license expires, so that they can start any necessary renewal processes.

The agency is currently gauging public response to the proposal, but if it gets the go-ahead, the new AD-year licenses will begin being issued next March, becoming another way in which Japan is gradually becoming more internationalized.

Source: Kyodo via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Wikipedia/MOTOI KenkichiPakutaso

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