TOKYO -A special panel to discuss key issues regarding the Japanese imperial family decided Friday to set the date for Emperor Akihito’s abdication as April 30, 2019, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, paving the way for the nation’s first imperial succession from a living emperor in about 200 years.
Based on the decision of the Imperial House Council involving lawmakers, the judiciary and imperial family members, Mr Abe’s cabinet is expected to formally approve on or around Dec 8 a government ordinance setting the octogenarian emperor’s abdication date and succession to the throne by his elder son Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1, 2019.
The emperor, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in a rare video message aired in August 2016 that he is concerned age would one day stop him from fulfilling his duties, implying his wish to retire.
Japan’s parliament enacted a law in June to allow the emperor, who will be 84 on Dec 23, to pass the Chrysanthemum throne on to his 57-year-old elder son. As the law requires the prime minister to hear opinions from the 10-member Imperial House Council before deciding on the abdication date by ordinance, the panel met Friday to discuss the date.
“Today, the Imperial House Council reached its decision without a hitch and I am deeply impressed that a big step has been made for the imperial succession,” Mr Abe told reporters, vowing to make utmost efforts to prepare for a smooth succession.
The emperor’s abdication will end the current Heisei era in its 31st year. The government is expected to announce the name of new era sometime in 2018.
After his abdication, Emperor Akihito will be called joko, a Japanese abbreviation of daijo tenno (retired sovereign), and Empress Michiko, 83, will be given the title of jokogo, with the crown prince ascending the throne and taking over the duties of emperor.
Under the post-war constitution in Japan, the emperor, once considered divine, is defined as “the symbol of the state” with no political power.
The Imperial House Council is a national deliberative body summoned to discuss important issues concerning the imperial family, such as marriage of male family members and the loss of imperial status. It was last held in 1993 to approve the crown prince’s marriage to Masako Owada.
The panel headed by Mr Abe and its members include the heads of both chambers of parliament, the Supreme Court chief justice, the head of the Imperial Household Agency and two imperial family members.
Friday’s meeting, which lasted over an hour at the Imperial Household Agency’s building in Tokyo, was the eighth Imperial House Council gathering, with the first held in 1947.
The government initially leaned toward setting the date of the emperor’s abdication in December 2018 and starting the new gengo (era name) used in the Japanese calendar at the start of 2019, according to government sources.
But the proposal met opposition from the Imperial Household Agency as ceremonies to mark the imperial succession would coincide with important year-end and New Year imperial events.
An alternative option of setting the abdication on March 31, 2019, also ran into obstacles as the timing would overlap with unified local elections held once every four years.
To avoid the busy political schedule, the idea of setting the emperor’s abdication on April 30, 2019, with the succession to follow the next day has become the preferred option, the sources said.
After fixing the date, the government is expected to set up an organisation headed by chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga to prepare for ceremonies to mark the imperial succession.
Although Prince Akishino, the younger son of Emperor Akihito, is one of the council members, he was replaced by Prince Hitachi, the 82-year-old younger brother of the emperor and a reserve council member, in accordance with the Imperial House Law banning participation by a stakeholder.
As the 52-year-old prince is expected to become koshi, or first in line to the throne, following the emperor’s abdication, the council gathering could directly touch on his status.
Emperor Akihito ascended the throne soon after the death in January 1989 of his father Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, becoming the first emperor to do so under the post-war constitution.
Before the enactment of the one-off abdication law, only posthumous succession had been allowed in Japan as the 1947 Imperial House Law lacks a provision on abdication. The last monarch who abdicated was Emperor Kokaku in 1817.
Emperor Akihito is supposedly the 125th emperor of a hereditary lineage believed to stretch back more than 2,600 years, if legendary ones are included.
Source: Kyodo News