Japan Cabinet approves Bill allowing Emperor Akihito's abdication

Japan's government has approved a one-off bill which if passed will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. AGENCIES

Japan's government has approved a one-off bill which if passed will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. AGENCIES

Japan's government has approved a one-off bill which, if passed, will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate.

The bill adds that the post of "joko grand chamberlain" will be newly established in the Imperial Household Agency to support the Emperor's activities after his abdication.

No date has been fixed for the abdication, though media reports have said it will likely take place in 2018, which would mark almost 30 years on the throne. Local media reported previously Emperor Akihito could stand down in late 2018.

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. The previous voluntary abdication occurred in 1817 when the scholarly Emperor Kokaku retired after an exceptionally long reign.

Securing stable succession amid a declining number of imperial family members, highlighted by recent news of Princess Mako's impending engagement to a commoner, remains a challenge.

Current Japanese law has no provision for abdication of the Emperor, therefore the lawmakers had to craft a legislation to make it possible for Akihito to step down.

Last summer, the 83-year-old Emperor voiced concerns that his advanced age may begin to affect his ability to serve, following an announcement last May that he and Empress Michiko, 81, would reduce their public appearances. The U.S. occupying forces allowed Hirohito, Akihito's father, to remain as emperor but reduced the position to that of a ceremonial figurehead. The goal is to start debate on the bill this month and enact the law by the end of the current Diet session in June. The bill also did not mention about the imperial family allowing women to stay in the palace upon marriage, Reuters noted.

The abdication will be Japan's first in 200 years. His younger brother Prince Akishino has a young son and two daughters.

Other ideas floated include allowing women to retain royal status upon marriage - meaning their male children would be eligible - or reinstating the titles of families stripped of their ranks under cost-cutting reforms during the USA occupation of Japan after World War II.

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. Once on throne, Crown Prince Naruhito need not look at roads as he once rued but walk along them or drive his way to reach the other world and mix with people more comfortably.

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