The government has been considering the possibility of arranging for Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the throne on Jan 1, 2019, with Emperor Akihito having expressed his desire to abdicate, a government source said Tuesday.
In that event, a new era name would be applied as one is declared for the reign of each emperor under law, the source said. The current Heisei era, meaning “achieving peace,” commenced on Jan 8, 1989, the day after the previous Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, passed away.
The idea is being floated as a way to limit the impact of changing era names on people’s lives by applying the new one at the start of 2019, according to the source.
The government is in the process of exploring an early succession by the 56-year-old crown prince in light of the emperor’s advanced age, the source said.
The 83-year-old emperor strongly hinted at his desire to abdicate in a rare video message in August.
Members of the government took 2018 as the time limit as Emperor Akihito stated in the message, “A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei.” The 30th year of Heisei falls in 2018.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to submit to the next ordinary Diet session, to be convened later this month, a bill for special legislation that would enable the emperor to abdicate and apply only to him.
Although the first day of 2018 could provide a suitable milestone, if the legislation is enacted as planned, it would be too soon for sufficient preparation, the source said.
As to the timing of the current emperor’s retirement, one idea is to include it in the special legislation while another is to stipulate in an ordinance, the source said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has declined to clarify the timing, telling a regular press conference Tuesday that a government-commissioned panel is continuing its discussions, focusing on how to alleviate the burden on the emperor.
The six-member panel is expected to release a report summarizing issues pertaining to the emperor’s possible abdication as early as Jan 23.
Before that, the heads and deputy heads of the Diet’s two chambers will hold a meeting Jan 16 to discuss how the legislative body should handle the special legislation, the chairman of the House of Representatives steering committee said Tuesday.
The parliamentary leaders plan to hold a press conference after their meeting to express their views on the matter including how to reconcile the various opinions regarding the emperor’s possible abdication, Tsutomu Sato, chairman of the lower house Committee on Rules and Administration, told a meeting of the panel’s executive members.
The four Diet heads are lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima, Vice Speaker Tatsuo Kawabata, House of Councillors President Chuichi Date and Vice President Akira Gunji.
The idea of establishing a joint panel of the upper and lower houses has been floated, according to political sources. Another idea is for Oshima and other parliamentary leaders to hear the opinion of each party, they said.
But political parties remain divided over the issue. The main opposition Democratic Party is insisting on creating a permanent system by revising the Imperial House Law, rather than enacting special legislation. Some form of legislation is necessary to enable an emperor to step down as the Imperial House Law does not have a clause on abdication.
Speaking in his New Year press conference on Jan 4, Abe said “politicians must demonstrate the decency not to turn the issue into political fodder.”