• Kyodo

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A government-commissioned panel on Monday started hearing opinions from experts on Japanese history and the Imperial Household system.

Its purpose is to study Emperor Akihito’s possible abdication, and to do so within a tighter schedule than previous hearings that have considered issues related to the Imperial family.

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 regent is not uncommon, Japan’s modern Imperial House Law does not provide for abdication. Succession is effectively allowed only upon the death of an emperor, and to enable the Emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne, a legal amendment or some special legislation is necessary.

The panel, chaired by Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, is set to have each expert express their views on 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 will have 30 minutes each to present their views and converse with panel members in a closed meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office.

The panel is set to hear from 11 other intellectuals, including journalists and a former Supreme Court justice, at the fourth and fifth meetings set for 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 introduced 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 undertaken by previous government hearings into possible changes in the Imperial Household system. One, under former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government in 2012, considered the establishment of female branches of the Imperial family, and included interviews with 12 experts over four months.

The five experts summoned Monday were Sukehiro Hirakawa, professor emeritus of comparative literature at the University of Tokyo; Takahisa Furukawa, professor of modern Japanese history at Nihon University; 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, the Emperor voiced concern that his advanced age could one day prevent him from fulfilling his duties.

The public overwhelmingly supports the idea of enabling the Emperor to abdicate, according to opinion polls.

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