April 30 most likely date for Emperor Akihito’s abdication: government sources

Kyodo

The government looks likely to choose April 30, 2019, as the date for Emperor Akihito’s abdication, with Crown Prince Naruhito’s succession to the throne to follow on May 1, a government source said Wednesday.

The government said earlier Wednesday that the Imperial House Council will hold a meeting on Dec. 1 this year to discuss potential dates, based on which the government will make its decision.

Advocates of scheduling the handover at the end of April argue that it would avoid a distraction during campaigning for unified local elections, expected to be held in March or April that year.

But others in the government support scheduling the abdication on March 31, with succession on April 1. These dates would offer more convenience for the public because the start of the new gengō (era name), used in the Japanese calendar, would coincide with the start of the fiscal year.

Following the Diet’s enactment in June of a one-off law to allow the 83-year-old Emperor to step down and pass the throne to his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, the government must decide the abdication date under an ordinance.

According to the source, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to approve the ordinance on or around Dec. 5.

“We in the government will do our utmost so that the Emperor’s abdication goes ahead without delay,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a news conference.

The Imperial House Council gathering on Dec. 1 will be attended by 10 members, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, heads of both chambers of the Diet, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the head of the Imperial Household Agency and two Imperial family members.

Although Prince Akishino, the younger son of Emperor Akihito, is one of the council members, he will be replaced by Prince Hitachi, the 81-year-old younger brother of the Emperor and a reserve council member, in accordance with the Imperial House Law banning participation by a stakeholder, Suga said.

As the 51-year-old prince is expected to become kōshi, or first in line to the throne, following the Emperor’s abdication, discussions at the Dec. 1 gathering could touch directly on his status.

Suga said he and Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Shinichiro Yamamoto will explain the outcome soon after the council meeting, which will be closed to the press.

The top government spokesman also said the timing for the release of the new era name will be considered “by taking into account possible impacts on people’s lives.”

In modern Japan, an era name gengō is used for the length of an emperor’s reign, with the current reign under Emperor Akihito named the era of Heisei, meaning “achieving peace.” The Heisei Era began in 1989 with 2017 being Year 29. Once the abdication takes place, Year 1 of the new era starts.

The government was leaning toward setting the abdication date as March 31, 2019. But since unified local elections are expected to be held in March or April that year, an option of setting the date on April 30 and the Crown Prince’s succession to the throne on the following day has emerged, the sources said.

In August 2016, the Emperor expressed his wishes to abdicate in a rare video message, citing his advanced age, in what would be Japan’s first abdication in two centuries.