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.
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.”