Panel on emperor’s abdication starts hearing opinions from experts


A government-commissioned panel on Monday started hearing opinions from experts on Japanese history and the imperial household system to study Emperor Akihito’s possible abdication in a tighter schedule than previous hearings mulling imperial issues.

Five intellectuals, mostly university professors, have been invited to a third meeting of the panel tasked with considering how the burden on the 82-year-old emperor can be alleviated following his video message in August in which he expressed his desire to abdicate.

Unlike many other countries where the abdication of a king or queen is not uncommon, Japan’s modern imperial law does not envisage abdication. Succession is effectively allowed only upon an emperor’s death, and to enable the emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum throne a legal amendment or special legislation is necessary.

Issues to be heard by the panel, chaired by Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation, include such topics as the role of an emperor, the installation of a regent and the possibility of creating a permanent system to enable emperors to abdicate.

The experts have 30 minutes each to present their views and discuss with panel members in a closed-door meeting held at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office.

“I believe the current system contributes the most to sustainable succession of the imperial throne,” one of the summoned experts, Takahisa Furukawa, a professor of modern Japanese history at Nihon University, told reporters after the meeting. “But I told (the panel) that the emperor abdicating is also one possible option if it is decided after adequate discussion.”

Furukawa said only advanced age should be a reason to enable abdication and the volume of the emperor’s official duties should be reviewed, adding that installation of a regent is one way to reduce the emperor’s burden.

The panel is set to hear from 11 other intellectuals, including journalists and a former Supreme Court justice, at a fourth and fifth meeting on Nov. 14 and 30, respectively.

The panel is then expected early next year to compile a report that will form the basis of a government bill during a regular Diet session starting in January. The government envisions the aging emperor’s potential abdication in 2018, when he will have reigned for 30 years, according to political sources.

The schedule is tighter than similar processes taken by previous government hearings looking into possible changes in the imperial household system, with some under former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government in 2012 to consider the establishment of female branches of the imperial family interviewing 12 experts in four months.

The four other experts summoned Monday are Sukehiro Hirakawa, professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Tokyo, Yasuo Ohara, professor emeritus of the Imperial Household system at Kokugakuin University, Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus of Japanese legal history at Kyoto Sangyo University, and writer Masayasu Hosaka.

In the rare video message released in August, Emperor Akihito voiced concern that his advanced age could one day stop him fulfilling his duties. The public overwhelmingly supported the idea of enabling the emperor to abdicate, according to opinion polls.


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