A government source has told The Japan Times that the government is making legal preparations to pave the way for Emperor Akihito’s potential abdication in 2018.
The government is responding to the Emperor’s concerns that his age could stop him from fulfilling his role as symbol of the state. He has indicated in a nation wide video message in August that 2018 will also mark a reign of 30 years. A government panel will begin looking into the issue soon and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he hopes the panel will “quietly proceed with discussions without putting schedules first”. The panel will hear experts’ views on key issues, including whether abdication is possible and whether legislation should also cover future emperors.
Emperor Akihito’s public duties were already being reduced as of 2009, after several health issues, including inflammation of the stomach and physical stress. He also had bypass surgery and surgery for prostate cancer.
He was born on 23 December 1933 as the elder son and the fifth child of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kōjun (Nagako). He was titled Prince Tsugu as a child. He was heir-apparent to the Chrysanthemum throne from the moment of his birth, but his formal investiture as crown prince was held at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on 10 November 1952. In June 1953 he represented Japan at the coronation of Her Majesty The Queen in London. In August 1957 he met Michiko Shōda on a tennis court. Their engagement was formally approved on 27 November 1958 and they married on 10 April 1959. She was the first commoner to marry into the Imperial Family. They went on to have three children, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (born 1960), Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 1965) and Mrs. Sayako Kuroda (born 1969, formerly known as The Princess Nori). They have four grandchildren, three granddaughters and one grandson.
Emperor Akihito’s heir is his eldest son, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan. He has a single daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi, with his wife, Masako, Crown Princess of Japan, who is not eligible to succeed to the throne under the current succession law. Next in line are his brother, Fumihito, Prince Akishino and his son, Prince Hisahito of Akishino.