The emperor is constitutionally barred from making any political statements, so he could not say explicitly that he wanted to stand down as that would be considered comment on the law.
The newly passed law says that on abdication, the emperor’s son, Naruhito, will immediately take the Chrysanthemum Throne, but that neither he nor his successors would be allowed to abdicate under the law.
The government is yet to set a date for the abdication, but the bill says it must take place within three years of the law coming into effect.
The handover is widely expected take place in December 2018.
The emperor has no political powers but several official duties, such as greeting foreign dignitaries. Japan’s monarchy is entwined in the Shinto religion and the emperor still performs religious ceremonies.
Most support the emperor’s desire to abdicate – a survey by the Kyodo news agency after Akihito suggested he wanted to step down found more than 85% saying abdication should be legalized.
A discussion about whether or not a woman would be able to ascend the throne was triggered in 2006 when the emperor had no grandsons, but was postponed after a boy was born to the imperial family.
In a rare address to the nation in August 2016, Akihito said he was beginning to feel “various constraints such as in my physical fitness” which caused him to “contemplate on my role and my duties as the emperor in the days to come”.
The emperor is constitutionally barred from making any comments on politics, so he could not say explicitly that he wanted to stand down.
The bill approved by the cabinet on May 19 mentions the widespread public support for the emperor’s wishes, Japanese media reported.
It says that on abdication, Crown Prince Naruhito would immediately take the Chrysanthemum Throne, but that neither he nor his successors would be allowed to abdicate under the same law.
The government will set the date for the abdication, which is expected to be in December 2018.
Women are not allowed to inherit Japan’s throne and so Princess Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito, cannot succeed her father.
A debate about whether or not a woman should be able to ascend the throne was triggered in 2006 when the emperor had no grandsons, but was postponed after a boy was born to the imperial family.
Princess Mako of Japan will lose her royal status by marrying a commoner.
The 25-year-old eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito will become engaged to law firm worker Kei Komuro, also 25, whom she met while studying together.
Japan’s imperial law requires a princess to leave the royal family after marrying a commoner.
The move is expected to reignite debate on royal succession, with the emperor also possibly abdicating soon.
Princess Mako and Kei Komuro met in 2012 at a restaurant, when they were both studying at the International Christian University in Tokyo.
Image source Wikimedia
The Imperial Household told local media that plans were under way for the princess’s engagement.
According to AP, a public announcement will be made, and then a wedding date will be set. The news agency said the couple would also make a formal report to the emperor and empress.
The engagement will only be official after a ceremonial exchange of gifts, local media said.
Asked about their engagement plans, Kei Komuro on May 17 was quoted as saying: “Now is not the time for me to comment, but I want to speak at the right time.”
Princess Mako’s aunt, Princess Sayako, married a commoner in 2005 – the first time a Japanese royal became a commoner.
Princess Sayako’s wedding to an urban planner for the Tokyo city government, was described as a low key event. She was left to adjust to her more humble surrounding.
The princess moved into a one-bedroom apartment, had to learn how to drive, shop in a supermarket and buy furniture.
Princess Sayako is the only daughter of Emperor Akihito.
Emperor Akihito, 83, hinted last August that he wanted to stand down, saying his age could interfere with his duties.
No Japanese emperor has abdicated for two centuries and the law currently does not allow it, but Japan is currently considering legal changes to allow the emperor to abdicate.
However, the new legislation is expected to leave unchanged a males-only succession law – which has been at the centre of debate for many years.
Because of that law there are only four heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne: Akihito’s sons Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Fumihito, Prince Hisahito (Fumihito’s son) and the emperor’s younger brother, Prince Masahito.
After news of Princess Mako’s upcoming engagement broke, Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quoted by Reuters as saying: “There is no change in our view to proceed with consideration of steps to ensure stable imperial succession.”
In a rare TV address to Japan, Emperor Akihito has strongly indicated he wants to step down, saying he fears his age will make it difficult to fulfill his duties.
His comments came in only his second-ever TV address to the public.
Emperor Akihito, 82, did not explicitly say he wanted to abdicate as it could be interpreted as political interference.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would take the remarks “seriously” and discuss what could be done.
“Upon reflecting how he handles his official duty and so on, his age and the current situation of how he works, I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do,” he said.
Japanese Emperor Akihito has undergone a successful heart bypass operation at the University of Tokyo Hospital
Emperor Akihito, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, has been on the throne in Japan since the death of his father, Hirohito, in 1989.
In his 10-minute pre-recorded message, Akihito said he had “started to reflect” on his years as emperor, and contemplate his position in the years to come: “While, being in the position of the emperor, I must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing imperial system, I would like to tell you what I, as an individual, have been thinking about.
Ever since my accession to the throne, I have carried out the acts of the emperor in matters of state, and at the same time I have spent my days searching for and contemplating on what is the desirable role of the emperor, who is designated to be the symbol of the state by the constitution of Japan. As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition.
At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese imperial family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.”
If Emperor Akihito were to abdicate, it would be the first time a Japanese emperor has stepped down since Emperor Kokaku in 1817.
Japan’s right wing nationalists who support Shinzo Abe’s government do not want any change to the current law, which insists emperors must serve until they die.
Emperor Akihito said he hoped the duties of the emperor as a symbol of the state could continue steadily without any breaks.
He said one possibility when an emperor could not fulfill his duties because of age or illness was that a regency could be established.
However, the emperor suggested this was not the ideal outcome, saying: “I think it is not possible to continue reducing perpetually the emperor’s acts in matters of state and his duties as the symbol of the state.”
Emperor Akihito’s eldest son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito is first in line to the Chrysanthemum throne, followed by his younger brother Prince Akishino.
Women are not allowed to inherit the throne and so Princess Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito, cannot succeed her father.
Abdication is not mentioned under Japan’s existing laws, so they would need to be changed for the emperor to be able to stand down. The changes will also have to be approved by parliament.
The emperor is constitutionally not allowed to make any political statements, and the desire to abdicate could be seen as being political.
The public seems to support Akihito’s desire to abdicate, with the younger generation in particular saying he should be allowed to relax in his old age.
A recent survey by the Kyodo news agency found more than 85% saying abdication should be legalized.
The move is opposed by some more conservative sections of society.
A debate about whether or not a woman would be able to ascend the throne was discussed in 2006 when the emperor had no grandsons, but was postponed after a boy was born to a family.
Prince Akishino also called for a debate on whether a retirement age should be set for the Emperor in 2011, but it did not result in a law change.
Under Japan’s constitution, the emperor’s role is defined as “symbol of the state”. He has no political powers and has several official duties, such as greeting foreign dignitaries, holding receptions and handing out awards.
Japan’s monarchy is entwined in the Shinto religion and the emperor still performs religious ceremonies.
Japan marks one year commemoration of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, which struck the north-eastern coast, leaving 20,000 dead or missing.
The 9-magnitude quake, Japan’s most powerful since records began, also triggered a serious nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Thousands of people were evacuated as radiation leaked from the plant.
There were memorial services, and a minute’s silence was observed at the moment the quake hit, 14:46 local time.
The main memorial ceremony was held at Tokyo’s National Theatre, attended by Japan’s Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
“We shall not let our memory of the disasters fade,” Emperor Akihito said in a brief televised address.
“I hope all the people will keep the victims in their hearts.”
PM Yoshihiko Noda pledged to rebuild so that Japan could be reborn “as an even better place”.
Japan marks one year commemoration of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, which struck the north-eastern coast, leaving 20,000 dead or missing
Much of Japan came to a standstill as the minute of silence was observed.
Warning sirens sounded across the north-east of the country at the precise time the quake struck, 14:46 local time. Bells and prayers also reverberated across the country.
The earthquake struck about 400 km (250 miles) north-east of Tokyo on 11 March 2011.
Shortly after the quake, an immense surge of water enveloped the north-eastern coast as a tsunami swept cars, ships, and buildings away, crushing coastal communities.
The twin natural disasters claimed more than 15,800 lives, and more than 3,000 people remain unaccounted for.
In the Fukushima prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located, the impact of the disaster was particularly acute.
Radiation leaked from the plant after a series of fires and explosions damaged four of the plant’s six reactor buildings, with serious failures in the plant’s cooling system being at the heart of the problem.
A 20 km (12.5 mile) exclusion zone around the plant was put in place making tens of thousands of people homeless. Radiation means the area around remains uninhabitable.
The plant is in cold shutdown now and PM Yoshihiko Noda has promised that over the decades to come it will be decommissioned. He has also pledged to rebuild the devastated towns along the coast.
However, Japan is still dealing with the economic and political fallout of the disaster. Japan’s prime minister at the time of the disaster, Naoto Kan, resigned months later.
Naoto Kan had been criticized for failing to show leadership during the nuclear crisis after the quake. The nuclear crisis also revealed serious flaws in the nuclear industry’s regulatory systems and safety standards.
Although much of the debris has been cleared, survivors from the devastated north-east have complained about slow recovery efforts.