Japan clears way for emperor's abdication
The Japanese government yesterday approved a one-off bill allowing ageing Emperor Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne, in the first such abdication in two centuries.
The bill is likely to receive swift final approval in parliament, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet signed off on the legislation.
Abdication must take place within three years of the bill becoming law. Earlier this year reports suggested that 83-year-old Akihito could step down at the end of December 2018 and be replaced by Crown Prince Naruhito on January 1, 2019.
But current Japanese law has no provision for abdication, thus requiring politicians to craft legislation to make it possible.
The status of the emperor is highly sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito's father Hirohito, who died in 1989.
Revered as a demigod before and during the conflict, Hirohito was reduced to a mere figurehead as part of postwar reforms.
Akihito has won plaudits for seizing upon the constitutionally-prescribed role of national symbol and there is wide sympathy for his wish to retire.
He has been treated for prostate cancer and also had heart surgery. And though he has cut back on some of his duties, he still maintains a busy official schedule, including occasional overseas visits.