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Politics

Japan to say goodbye to hanko stamps and piles of paper by year-end

Government council will outline big changes at Wednesday meeting

Hanko stamps are required for many official documents in Japan, impeding digitization.

TOKYO -- Rules standing in the way of digitizing government in Japan, such as requirements to submit certain forms in person or with hanko stamps, could see their days numbered Wednesday when a key panel announces plans for an end-of-the-year overhaul of administrative rules.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will call for swift changes at the meeting of the Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform, its first since he took office in September. "Regulatory reform will be at the very center of this government," he has said.

Digitization is a key component. Going digital in forms and filings is expected to help curb the new coronavirus.

Administrative reform minister Taro Kono is spearheading the effort to streamline Japan's administrative procedures.

The top four business lobbies have urged the government to change the rules -- such as requiring paper documents, hanko stamps and in-person filings -- for roughly 110 administrative procedures.

The council thinks that hanko requirements can be scrapped for 90% or more of administrative procedures. It is weighing changes to existing legislation on digital signatures.

It will also push to ease rules on documents exchanged between private parties. Individuals may no longer be have to show up in person for property deals or to open new bank accounts, for example.

Another major topic is online doctors' visits, which the government temporarily greenlighted this April in response to COVID-19. Suga will push Wednesday for permanent approval, though the Japan Medical Association is reluctant to make them a permanent option in one swoop, owing to security concerns.

The government will extend measures making it easier for restaurants to offer outdoor dining on sidewalks and elsewhere. They now can use these spaces free of charge until Nov. 30 as long as they are kept clean.

The government will also push for sweeping reforms to regulations and frameworks that prevent the use of digital technology. It will promote the digital transformation of society, including in such fields as medical and nursing care. The need for regulatory reform to revitalize the economy will be stressed.

The council has called for a change for some time. It is setting a specific timeline now in response to Suga's plans. Needed legislative amendments will be handled together during the regular Diet session in 2021.

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