Abdication panel issues interim report noting problems with permanent revision to Imperial House Law

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

A government advisory panel on Imperial abdication issues publicized an interim report Monday detailing the pros and cons of allowing an emperor to abdicate due to advanced age, focusing in particular on a possible permanent revision to the Imperial House Law.

The six-member panel, launched in October after Emperor Akihito indicated his wish to retire in a video message two months earlier, did not reach a conclusion in the report.

However, it detailed a number of problems the panel believes could arise if a permanent reform is carried out to allow future emperors to abdicate by citing advanced age. That section was seen as reflecting the apparent consensus of the six panel members.

The panel “now needs to further deepen discussion, considering reactions of the Diet and of the public” to the report, it said in the 13-page paper that featured 18 pages of reference materials.

The report argued that it is difficult to define the general conditions of an Imperial retirement because the concept of “advanced age” could vary depending on an emperor’s health condition and ever-extending life spans in Japan.

Meanwhile, the Diet can decide, based on public opinion and on a case-by-case basis, whether one-off legislation should be enacted for an emperor, something the report said may be a better option than permanent reform applicable to all future monarchs.

If the Diet deliberates and enacts a one-off law for each emperor as needed, it would “most accurately reflect” public opinion at that time, and would eliminate any “arbitrary abdication” that might be forced by a certain political group, the report said.

In August, Emperor Akihito, then 82, surprised the nation by indicating that he wishes to abdicate soon, saying he would eventually become unable to fully perform his public duties due to his advanced age.

In the video message, the Emperor indicated his desire for a permanent reform rather than a temporary law only for himself, saying the Imperial succession will be stably maintained for future generations.

But in December, deputy panel chairman Takashi Mikuriya said the six members agreed that a one-off law applicable only to Emperor Akihito would be preferable.

Government sources have unofficially indicated that it, too, prefers a special temporary law only for Emperor Akihito. Mikuriya’s remark was widely seen as reflecting the will of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Conservative nationalists, meanwhile, have argued that an abdication based on an emperor’s will could destabilize the Imperial succession system. Such nationalists are considered Abe’s core supporters.

The panel was officially launched to discuss how public duties for an elderly emperor could be reduced, with abdication considered as one option for that purpose.

The panel put these duties into three categories: mandatory ceremonies stipulated by the Constitution; nonmandatory public duties performed based on an emperor’s own will; and private duties of an emperor, such as Shinto ceremonies and academic studies.

Emperor Akihito, trying to serve as “the symbol of the state and unity of the people” as stipulated by the Constitution, has kept himself busy mainly with public duties, including attending numerous ceremonies with foreign dignitaries and visits across the country, including those in disaster-hit areas.

Some conservatives have argued that an elderly emperor can have his nonmandatory public duties greatly reduced, and a regent can be installed to perform the ceremonies stipulated by the Constitution.

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