According to a government source, the Japanese government has been considering the possibility of Crown Prince Naruhito acceding to the Chrysanthemum Throne ahead of schedule.
During a rare televised address last August, Emperor Akihito of Japan first alluded to a possible desire to step down from service and pass the role of Emperor to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. The wish was not expressed directly, His Imperial Majesty instead commenting on his advancing years and ailing health.
The possibility of an imperial abdication had first been suggested earlier that year in June by NHK, a Japanese national broadcaster, although the Imperial Household Agency has repeatedly denied that there were any such plans. Currently, any sort of retirement by the Emperor would require an amendment to the Imperial Household Act, which regulates the Imperial Family and its affairs within the Japanese government.
Now it seems the Japanese government is at least considering the possibility nonetheless and have even put forward a hypothetical date for the transition: the 1st of January 2019. The choice of date is not arbitrary — 2018 will mark the 30th year of Heisei (“Achieving Peace”), the current Japanese era that started when the current Emperor acceded the throne on the 7th of January 1989, ending the earlier Showa era of his father.
As such, the abdication would provide a rather neat and clean start to a new imperial era, minimising the impact of changing era names on Japanese citizens.
In order to provide for this event, the government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has proposed a special legislation to describe how the abdication and succession will proceed. It will also describe the timing of such an event. However, should the proposed bill that would allow for Crown Prince Naruhito’s accession pass as expected, it would still leave little time for preparation. A panel consisting of the Heads and Deputies of the Upper and Lower Houses of the Japanese Diet has also been arranged to discuss the possibility of an abdication, and ways in which His Imperial Majesty’s burdens as Emperor may be lessened.
A report is expected to be released as early as the 23rd of January.
The move has not been universally supported, of course. The Japanese Democratic Party, for example, has proposed that the issue of the Emperor’s abdication should not be resolved solely through a one-time parliamentary bill, but instead be something worked into the Imperial Household Act to provide a permanent description of how an Emperor might abdicate the throne.