Japanese government clears way for Akihito to abdicate

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Cabinet approved Friday a bill to let 83-year-old Emperor Akihito abdicate and allow his elder son Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne. In a rare televised address last year, the 83-year-old expressed a desire to retire and give his son time to rule: "When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am anxious that it may become hard for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being as I have done until now'". However, under Japanese law, he is expected to serve until his death.

Akihito's abdication would mark the first time a Japanese emperor has abdicated the throne in around 200 years.

She is due to marry a commoner and in doing so will become one herself.

The Emperor's Birthday holiday on December 23 will be changed to February 23, the birthday of Crown Prince Naruhito, said the bill.

Although abdication has been common throughout the history of the Chrysanthemum Throne and women were, in the past, eligible for the throne (the last one in the 18th century), the 1947 law allows only men to occupy the throne.

"The government is expecting the bill to be passed smoothly", Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters Friday after the cabinet approved the bill to allow Akihito to retire and for his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, who is 57, to take over.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, is loved and revered by many Japanese. The nation's "gengo" era name, which remains in use for the length of an emperor's reign, will likely change at the start of 2019, Kyodo news agency reported.

The legislation for Akihito's case was needed because the Imperial House Law does not provide for abdication. Princess Mako's brother, 10-year-old Hisahito, is the fourth heir to the throne and the only boy in his generation. The first in line to succeed is Crown Prince Naruhito, but the law of Japan has no provision for abdication at all.

The bill also did not mention about the imperial family allowing women to stay in the palace upon marriage, Reuters noted.

The bill has been specifically drafted to ensure it is used only for the current emperor and to disallow future emperors from following it.

  • Joey Payne