The timing of Emperor Akihito’s abdication became clearer Friday as government sources suggested March 31, 2019, as one potential date for the rare event.
The Diet enacted a special single-use law in June to let Emperor Akihito, 83, abdicate due to his advanced age. This paves the way for his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The abdication will be Japan’s first in about 200 years, since the law only allows succession to take place when an emperor dies.
The event will usher in a change in Japan’s era name, or nengō by bringing the Heisei Era to a close. The government is considering announcing the next era name next year, the sources said.
Japan uses both Western and traditional calendar systems concurrently.
The special law was drafted after the Emperor hinted at his desire to step down in a rare televised message in August last year, noting his advanced age was interfering with his public duties.
“I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health. However, when I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now,” he said.
Concerns about the sustainability of the male-only succession system are growing as the Imperial family only has one young heir, Prince Hisahito, age 11.
The other seven unmarried children are all female, and six are in their 20s and 30s. Under the Imperial Law, women must give up their Imperial status if they marry a commoner.
Politicians and intellectuals are calling for a law to let women become reigning empresses and set up new branches in the family even if they wed commoners. But conservatives want to retain the traditional paternal-line succession system.