National / Politics

Experts' opinions still divided in second meeting on Emperor's possible abdication

Kyodo

Opinions on Emperor Akihito’s possible abdication remain divided among experts summoned to a government-commissioned panel looking at how the burden on the 82-year-old monarch can be alleviated.

Three university professors, two journalists and a former deputy chief Cabinet secretary presented their views Monday during the second of three sessions in which the panel is hearing opinions about the Imperial Household system.

Opinions were also divided in the first session held last week.

After attending the meeting, Shoichi Watanabe, a professor emeritus at Sophia University, expressed his opposition to abdication, saying a regent should be installed as stipulated by the current law as a way to alleviate the Emperor’s burden.

“I am really grateful that the Emperor is willing to work in view of the public,” Watanabe, who is known for his books on history, told reporters, referring to the Emperor’s earlier remarks suggesting that installing a regent would not be preferable.

“But I believe the Emperor would be fulfilling his duty as long as he prays for the country and citizens in the palace,” Watanabe said.

In contrast, expert Katsumi Iwai, a journalist who has been covering Imperial matters, called for a revision of the Imperial House Law to enable every elderly emperor to abdicate, saying the current system of reigning for life is “cruel.”

The panel, chaired by Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Keidanren business lobby, was set up in September following the Emperor’s unprecedented video message in August hinting at his desire to abdicate.

The Emperor voiced concern that his advanced age could one day prevent him from fully carrying out his official duties.

Succession under the Imperial House Law is effectively allowed only upon an emperor’s death. To enable an emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne, a legal amendment or special legislation would be necessary.

Takashi Mikuriya, a panel member and a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Tokyo, said after the meeting that the committee is not focusing on how many experts are opposed to abdication and how many are supportive.

“What’s important for us is the logical composition of each expert’s views and their thought process,” he said.

The panel will hear from a total of 16 experts knowledgeable on the Imperial Household system during three sessions this month.

Experts have been asked to explain the pros and cons of installing a regent as a way to reduce the burden on Emperor Akihito, as well as setting up a permanent system to enable every emperor to abdicate, among other related topics.

The final session will be Nov. 30, with the first two largely focusing on experts on the Imperial Household system and history, and the last one on legal issues.

The panel is expected to compile a report summarizing various aspects concerning abdication early next year as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government intends to submit a relevant bill to the Diet during its regular session starting in January.

The other people who gave their opinions in Monday’s session were journalist Yoshiko Sakurai, former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara, Hidehiko Kasahara, a professor at Keio University, and Akira Imatani, a Teikyo University professor.

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