Japan Cabinet Allows Emperor Akihito to Hand Over Throne to Crown Prince

Laura Christensen
May 20, 2017

The Japanese government has approved legislation that will allow Emperor Akihito, who has suffered several bouts of ill health in recent years, to abdicate next year.

While no definite plan for an abdication has been confirmed, media have said it will likely take place in late 2018, which would mark almost 30 full years on the throne for the emperor.

The discussion about the role of royal women arose again this week when it was announced that Princess Mako - Akihito's eldest grandchild - was to be engaged to a commoner. The Emperor had requested abdication owing to his old age. The emperor avoided using the word "abdication" in his address. 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'".

Akihito's abdication request, however, has concerned many scholars and politicians who argue that the changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate would risk Japan's monarchs becoming subject to political manipulation. It makes no changes to the royal succession protocol, which favors male heirs, and makes no provision for Japan's lack of male heirs.

But Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been reluctant toward that move, with conservatives within the party wary that allowing princesses to stay in the imperial family after marriage could eventually pave the way for women to inherit the throne. It adds, "General members of the public understand the Emperor's position and feel sympathy for him", in explaining the process leading up to his retirement. Akishino's son, Prince Hisahito, 10, is the only boy of his generation in the imperial family.

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But after that there are no more eligible males, meaning the centuries-old succession would be broken if Hisahito fails to have a son in the future. This is the first such abdication in the country in nearly two centuries.

The bill approving Akihito's abdication is reported to be specifically designed for the current emperor so as to prevent others following suit.

Empress Michiko will be given a new title, "jokogo", which means "wife of joko" after her husband's abdication.

Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is expected to succeed his father to the country's Chrysanthemum Throne.

"It is urgent that the system should be reformed so that female members can remain in the imperial family", Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus of legal history at Kyoto Sangyo University, told the Times. It says that on abdication, Crown Prince Naruhito would immediately take the Chrysanthemum Throne. Prince Akishino's annual budget allocation for private expenses will increase threefold to 91.5 million yen ($822,000), according to the bill.

Other reports by My Hot News

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