Bill to Allow Japan Emperor to Abdicate

Japan’s cabinet has approved a bill that would allow Emperor Akihito to step down.

Abdication is not possible under current law and the last time an emperor stepped down was in 1817.

The bill is one-off legislation that would allow only Akihito to step down, with no provisions for future emperors.

There are only four heirs in the line of succession – Akihito’s two middle-aged sons, Akihito’s octogenarian brother, and Hisahito, the 10-year-old son of Akihito’s younger son.

The crown prince has one teenage daughter, Aiko, who cannot inherit the throne.

The government envisions December 2018, when the Emperor turns 85 years old, as the possible timing for his abdication, and that the nation’s “gengo” era name, which remains in use for the length of an emperor’s reign, will likely change at the start of 2019.

The bill was specifically designed for the current emperor, so as to prevent other monarchs from easily following suit.

The bill will now pass to the parliament, where it is widely expected to be passed.

The enactment of the bill will make Emperor Akihito the first emperor to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku, who relinquished the throne in 1817. Historically, abdication of Japanese emperors was common, with about half of the 125 emperors having abdicated.

The emperor is constitutionally barred from making any comments on politics, so he could not say explicitly that he wanted to stand down.