The Japanese Government Has Approved a Bill That Lets Emperor Akihito Abdicate

Japan's Emperor Akihito waving to well-wishers during his new year speech in Tokyo on January 2

Once regarded divine power, the oldest monarchy of Japan will undergo another major change with the passage of a bill by the government to let the current aged Emperor Akihito to abdicate the throne for his Oxford-educated son and Crown Prince Naruhito.

The bill is expected to be scrutinized by the parliament later in the day, the national Kyodo news agency reported.

Last August, Emperor Akihito made a rare public televised address during which he suggested he wanted to step down because his advancing age and weakening health were making it hard for him to carry out his official duties to the best of his ability.

There has been no definite plan when the emperor will step down, but local media reports suggest that the government envisions late 2018 as a possible timing for his abdication.

The Emperor's Birthday holiday on December 23 will be changed to February 23, the birthday of Crown Prince Naruhito, said the bill.

"When the emperor first hinted that we might think about his abdication, most people were shocked because we were not prepared to hear that, but now many Japanese people support his idea", Yoshiki Mine, president of Institute for Peaceful Diplomacy in Tokyo, said.

Reports of Emperor Akihito's desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July.

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The 83-year-old monarch has been on the throne since 1989, that year his father, Hirohito, died.

In a rare address to the nation in August, he said he was beginning to feel "various constraints such as in my physical fitness" which caused him to "contemplate on my role and my duties as the emperor in the days to come".

The legislation presented on Friday is especially designed for Akihito, and would prevent future monarchs from also abdicating.

The legislation endorsed Friday would allow Crown Prince Naruhito to succeed his father as emperor.

Emperor Akihito's second son Prince Akishino, 51, will be next in line to the throne after the abdication.

Securing stable succession amid a declining number of imperial family members, highlighted by recent news of the impending engagement of Princess Mako, who is Emperor Akihito's eldest grandchild, to a commoner, remains a challenge.

A change to the law was briefly considered in 2005 to allow a woman to take over the throne.

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