A government panel studying a possible abdication of Japanese Emperor Akihito released an interim report Monday in favor of enacting special legislation that would apply to him but not to future monarchs.
The panel is looking at how to accommodate Akihito’s apparent abdication wish, which he expressed last August when he cited concerns that his age and health may start limiting his ability to fulfill his duties. Akihito turned 83 last month.
The report paves the way for a parliamentary discussion. The panel’s final report is expected in the spring, while the government is reportedly eyeing an abdication bill adopted in several months.
The six-member panel, after interviewing constitutional and monarchy experts, compiled the report suggesting that an abdication under a one-time law would provide flexibility in adapting to each emperor and social environment in the future, while setting a permanent system covering all future emperors would be difficult.
Some experts have said the Imperial House Law, the supreme law overseeing Japan’s monarchy, needs to be revised.
The report provided pluses and minuses on all options, urging further discussion among lawmakers and the public. It said the emperor’s title, role and other details of his post-abdication life would be addressed later.
The panel deliberately avoided spelling out a conclusion because “we wanted the people to think and discuss what would be best to relieve concerns of the Emperor,” panel chief Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of a powerful Japanese business lobby Keidanren, told reporters after handing the report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
An abdication of the emperor is “an extremely important issue involving the foundation of our country, its long history and the future and needs to be discussed thoroughly,” Abe said.
If legislation is enacted, Emperor Akihito would be the first to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku 200 years ago. Media reports have said officials were eying an abdication at the end of 2018, when Akihito turns 85 after and his reign marks the 30th year.
The current law, established in 1947, is largely inherited from a 19th century constitution that banned abdication as a risk to stability. But the experts say there is no such risk as far as Akihito’s abdication is concerned, the risks can be eliminated with additional legal procedures in the future.
Throughout much of its history, Japan’s monarchy served more of a ceremonial and religious function than a governing one. But late 19th century modernizers elevated the throne to use as a rallying point for the nation.
Akihito’s father was worshipped as a living god during Japan’s wartime aggression in Asia before renouncing his divinity and become redefined as a symbolic figure under the postwar constitution. Akihito devoted himself to being a symbolic figure, while trying to soothe the wounds from his father’s era.
Many Japanese ultra-conservatives want greater status for the emperor and oppose abdication as a potential risk to a stable monarchy.
The government panel in its report avoids some of the most heated issues, such as whether females should be allowed in the current male-only succession and concerns about a shortage of successors to the Chrysanthemum throne. Akihito has two sons but only one of his four grandchildren is male.
Some experts say Akihito’s possible abdication is a wakeup call to the larger issues of aging and a shortage of successors in Japan’s 2,000-year-old monarchy – issues that reflect overall concerns about the country’s aging society and declining population.