20 May, 2017
Japan's government has approved a bill that will allow emperor Akihito to become the country's first monarch in two centuries to abdicate.
The 83-year-old emperor, who has had heart surgery and prostate cancer treatment, said in rare public remarks last year he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfill his duties.
But current Japanese law has no provision for abdication, thus requiring politicians to craft legislation to make it possible. His heir apparent Crown Prince Naruhito-and any future successors-would not be able to abdicate under the same law.
After Emperor Akihito relinquishes the Chrysanthemum throne, he will be called "joko", an abbreviation of "daijo tenno", a title that was given in the past to an abdicated emperor, according to the bill.
This week the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said succession was not up for discussion. Female members of the imperial family are not allowed to hold the throne, and are also required to give up their royal status if they marry a commoner. Currently, only posthumous succession is allowed under the Imperial House Law.
The Emperor's Birthday holiday on December 23 will be changed to February 23, the birthday of Crown Prince Naruhito, said the bill. The case of Akihito is not unique, say the lawyers, Emperor Kokaku in 1817 did the same.
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As Naruhito doesn't have any son, so after he ascends the throne, his younger brother Akishino will be next in line, followed by Hisahito, Akishino's 10-year-old son.
These problems have recently been highlighted when Akihito's granddaughter, Princess Mako, 25, announced three days ago that she plans to marry her college friend, which will result in the princess losing her royal status.
Only males can inherit the throne and there was a succession crisis until 2006 as both the emperor's sons had only daughters.
Japan's Emperor Akihito (R) and Empress Michiko leave after praying at the altar of late Prince Tomohito, a cousin of the Emperor, in Tokyo June 19, 2012.
Reports of Emperor Akihito's desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July.
They are expected to move to Togu Palace where the crown prince and his family now live, and the new emperor's family will move to the Imperial Palace, said the bill.