Japan clears way for Emperor Akihito's abdication

Japan clears way for Emperor Akihito's abdication

Japan clears way for Emperor Akihito's abdication

It is the beginning of a new era in Japan, as the country's parliament has passed a bill that will allow the aging Emperor Akihito to resign in late 2018.

Akihito, who has been treated for prostate cancer and had heart surgery, is expected to step aside in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito. The bill was cleared in the lower house last week. The 83-year-old will be the first emperor to be abdicated in Japan in 200 years. Under the new law, Akihito has three years to abdicate. This was strongly opposed by conservatives, and the plan was dropped after Naruhito's younger brother, Fumihito, gave birth to a son.

However, Japanese Prime Minister Abe is said to be reluctant to carry out such a drastic reform because many conservative politicians want to retain the traditional male-only, paternal-line succession system.

Emperor Akihito's abdication has rekindled concerns about a shortage of heirs. "Together with his wife, the Empress Michiko, he has traveled extensively, acting as an envoy of reconciliation with surrounding Asian countries that suffered during Japan's wartime aggression".

Some have suggested that female members of the family who marry commoners should stop losing their royal status - as will happen to Akihito's granddaughter Princess Mako when she weds her college sweetheart.

Opposition party lawmakers - and, according to surveys, a majority of the public - supported a more substantial overhaul of the household law that would not only permit future emperors to abdicate, but also make way for women to reign.

Another issue the Japanese government will discuss is the continuity of the heirs, as women are not allowed to inherit the throne.

After Princess Mako, 25, gets married to paralegal Kei Komuro, 25, the total number of imperial family members will fall to 18. He has one child, a daughter. Media reports have said the government may be considering as early as the end of next year, which will also involve a change of the nengo (era name).

Added to the abdication bill is a draft resolution that potentially questions whether women who marry outside the family have to rescind their royal rights.

The family operates under hereditary, male-only succession rules, although there have been eight empresses in past centuries. He appears to have taken pains to keep his distance from emperor-worshiping conservatives and historical revisionists who have contributed to hard relations with neighboring China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's wartime and colonial policies.

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