Thursday, September 6, 2018

New Japanese Era

A new era in the Japanese calendar is expected to begin on May 1, 2019, following the announced abdication of Japanese Emperor Akihito. This era will be represented in dates by two names: one consisting of a sequence of two existing kanji and one consisting of a new single Japanese character that combines those two. (Similarly, the current era Heisei can be represented by either “平成” or “㍻”.)

The Japanese calendar system and support for era names is essential for important public sector business functions. Therefore, most software distributed in Japan will need to adopt the new era name and add font support for the new character.

The current Heisei era has been in place since 1989 — during the evolution of modern computer systems. Because of this, most software systems have not been tested for such an event. The exact date of the announcement of the new era name is unknown, but current expectations are that there will be a very narrow window for implementing the new era information in IT environments, perhaps less than a month. Until the announcement, dates in 2019 and beyond will continue to be written with the Heisei era name and its year numbering.

To prepare as well as possible for this unprecedented event, the Unicode Consortium has taken the following actions:

  • The code point U+32FF has been reserved for the new era character.
  • Once the new era name is announced, the Unicode Consortium will quickly issue a dot-release (Version 12.1) that will add that character at the reserved code point, U+32FF, with an appropriate character name, decomposition, and representative glyph.
  • Unicode CLDR and ICU are including test mechanisms in the 2018 October releases of CLDR 34 and ICU 63. Systems that use CLDR or ICU (all smartphones, for example) can test using these mechanisms.
  • Systems and applications that do not use CLDR or ICU will need to take similar steps for testing.
The short time window between the actual announcement and the effective date will present challenges to the IT industry. IT systems in Japan will be expected to have the support in place seamlessly. Because of the narrow timeframe and the need to upgrade or patch legacy software, it is important to start now to determine how soon your application/system can add support to your current implementations, stacks, and dependencies.