TOKYO – A special panel chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has agreed that the date of Emperor Akihito’s planned abdication – the first by a Japanese monarch in about two centuries – should be on April 30, 2019, national broadcaster NHK reported.
Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in rare remarks last year that he feared age might make it hard to fulfil his duties.
A law adopted in June allows Akihito to step down, but left details such as timing to be worked out later. He will be succeeded by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
Japan’s constitution defines the emperor as a symbol of the state and the people, without political power. His duties include Shinto religious ceremonies and constitutionally-defined tasks, such as the opening of parliament.
The octogenarian Akihito’s 29-year reign has also been marked by travels to domestic disaster sites to cheer survivors, and overseas to soothe the wounds of a war fought in the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who was considered divine until Japan’s defeat in World War Two.
Some experts, recalling past examples when ex-emperors kept their influence, had feared the former monarch’s existence would undercut the symbolic status of his heir.
“The emperor all along has intended to pass all his public duties including state acts to the next emperor,” Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, said in remarks published to mark his 52nd birthday on Thursday.
“Even if there are concerns about ‘dual authority’, if that expression is appropriate, I can clearly say that it is impossible,” he added.
Akishino, who is next in line to the throne after the 57-year-old Naruhito, said he wanted his father to rest after retiring.
“I hope the emperor will spend relaxing time as much as possible after the abdication,” he said.
Akishino said he was willing to take on the crown prince’s duties as much as possible after Naruhito ascends the throne but would need to consult his older brother.
“This is unprecedented, so there are many things I can not imagine,” he said.
Akishino’s 11-year-old son, Prince Hisahito, is the emperor’s only grandson and will be second in line to the throne after the abdication.
Naruhito’s daughter, Princess Aiko, who turns 16 on Friday, cannot inherit the males-only throne.