The government has been considering the possibility of arranging for Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on Jan. 1, 2019, allowing his father, Emperor Akihito, to abdicate, according to a government source.
Under that scenario, a new era — with a new name — would start, as one is declared for the reign of each emperor under law, the source said Tuesday. The current Heisei Era, meaning “achieving peace,” commenced on Jan. 8, 1989, the day after 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 Emperor Akihito’s advanced age, the source said.
The 83-year-old Emperor strongly hinted of 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 will be 2018.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to submit to the Diet, during the ordinary session to be convened later this month, a bill for special legislation that would enable Emperor Akihito to abdicate. It would 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 it in an ordinance, the source said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has declined to clarify the timing, telling a news conference Tuesday that the government-commissioned panel is continuing its discussions, focusing on how to alleviate the burden on the Emperor.
The six-member panel said Wednesday that it will release an interim report summarizing issues pertaining to the Emperor’s possible abdication on Jan. 23.
Before that, the heads and deputy heads of the Upper and Lower houses will hold a meeting next Monday to discuss how the Diet should handle the special legislation, the chairman of the Lower House Steering Committee said Tuesday.
The parliamentary leaders plan to hold a news 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 Rules and Administration Committee, told a meeting of the panel’s executive members.
The four Diet heads are Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, Vice Speaker Tatsuo Kawabata, Upper House 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’s news conference on Jan. 4, Abe said that “politicians must demonstrate the decency not to turn the issue into political fodder.”