Japan cabinet approves law for Emperor Akihito abdication

Evrard Martin
Mai 20, 2017

In fact, the bill specifically refers to Akihito instead of changing the rules of abdication for all emperors to follow because, as the Daily Sabah puts it, "the conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reluctant to open the imperial system to wide-ranging debate".

The enactment of the bill will make Emperor Akihito the first emperor to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku, who relinquished the throne in 1817.

The abdication issue has highlighted concerns over a potential succession crisis in one of the world's oldest monarchies.

The move comes nearly a year after Emperor Akihito made a rare public television address to the nation wherein he spoke about his advancing age and health, perhaps suggesting that he wanted to step down from duties.

Article 1 of the bill explains the objective of realizing the Emperor's abdication.

But there is no provision under the existing law for him to abdicate and be succeeded by Crown Prince Naruhito.

Akihito is Japan's 125th emperor, a position once regarded with godlike status that's been only ceremonial since the end of World War II.

Though the bill technically serves as "an exception to the Imperial House Law, as a practical matter it is a model for the future", said Masahiko Komura, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Akihito became the first emperor to Wednesday a commoner with his 1959 marriage to Michiko Shoda, daughter of an industrialist.

Such is the situation now confronting 25-year-old Princess Mako, Akihito's oldest granddaughter, who is engaged to marry a young man who works at a law firm. If and when she marries, she will no longer be royalty. Princess Mako's brother, 10-year-old Hisahito, is the fourth heir to the throne and the only boy in his generation.

The government believes that the ideal moment for the abdication is in December 2018, when the Emperor turns 85 and completes three decades as head of state.

In 1992, he became the first Japanese monarch in living memory to visit China, where bitter memories of Japan's wartime invasion run deep.

According to the bill, the emperor and his wife Empress Michiko would keep the honorific title of "heika" which means "Your Majesty" after the abdication.

But the government is intent on restricting how this precedent can be applied, aiming to prevent future emperors from abdicating on a whim or being forced to cede the throne. "Otherwise, we will lose more and more members from the imperial family". The Abe Cabinet has approved a draft bill, which will be passed on to the Diet, to allow the abdication just this one time.

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