It was on the evening of May 16 when public broadcaster NHK broke the news that Princess Mako, 25, the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, would soon become engaged to a commoner. This came close on the heels of an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties on a one-off piece of legislation to permit the abdication of the aging Emperor Akihito, and the focus of political discussion was about to shift to the question whether female members of the Imperial family should be allowed to create their own branch in the family when they marry, instead of leaving the family under the current rules. The abdication bill was formally endorsed by the Cabinet three days later.
The timing was reminiscent of what happened last July, when, three days after the Upper House election, NHK broke an exclusive report that the Emperor would shortly deliver a message expressing his wish to retire.
These two events appear to be more than coincidental, since it is inconceivable that the subject matter of both news reports would be made public without advance approval by the Emperor and Empress. That quickly led to political speculation over possible messages in the latest report.