The Japanese government is considering stipulating a new title and position for Emperor Akihito in a bill to be drawn up to allow the 82-year-old monarch to abdicate given the current imperial affairs law does not provide for such a possibility, a government source said.
How the current emperor would be addressed and what his status would be after retirement will be worked out in detail after discussions by a panel set up by the government to tackle issues regarding his potential abdication, the source said. The panel will hold its first session on Oct 17.
The establishment of the panel and the move to enact a special law follow the emperor’s suggestion in a rare video message to the public in August that he wishes to abdicate in the future.
The emperor, who ascended the throne in 1989, voiced concern that he could one day become unable to fulfill his constitutional role as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the Japanese people because of his advanced age.
The government is eyeing special legislation to enable the current emperor’s abdication amid concern that a permanent provision could raise the possibility of a monarch being pushed to abdicate under political pressure.
To ensure its one-time nature, a proposal is being floated for the special law to state the exact date when the emperor will abdicate, according to the source.
Currently, only posthumous succession is effectively allowed under the 1947 Imperial House Law, although the crown prince can be appointed as a regent if an emperor becomes incapacitated.
As a result, amending the imperial law or the enactment of special legislation will be necessary to enable the aging emperor to abdicate. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is leaning against amending the imperial law, a process many observers say would be complex and time-consuming.
Public opinion has been overwhelmingly supportive of allowing the emperor to abdicate.
While the Imperial House Law contains a provision regarding the composition of the imperial family, it makes no reference to the title or position of a retired emperor.
Historically, retired emperors took such titles as “daijo tenno” (retired sovereign), abbreviated as “joko.” Those who became Buddhist priests after their retirement assumed the title of “daijo hoo” (priestly retired sovereign), abbreviated to “hoo.”
Other legal issues that must be addressed include the residence for a retired emperor and staff arrangements.
Enacting a special law to enable an emperor to abdicate is viewed as unconstitutional by some legal experts, as Article 2 of the Constitution stipulates that the imperial throne shall be “succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law.”
The government panel will meet several times a month and listen to experts on the imperial household system and constitutional scholars. Their discussions may continue into next year.