Japan plans legal changes to allow emperor's abdication in end 2018: Reports

Japanese Emperor Akihito (right) and Crown Prince Naruhito wave to well-wishers during a public appearance for New Year celebrations at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan on Jan 2, 2017.
Japanese Emperor Akihito (right) and Crown Prince Naruhito wave to well-wishers during a public appearance for New Year celebrations at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan on Jan 2, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's government is planning legal steps that would allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate and his son to ascend the throne in two years, media reported on Wednesday (Jan 11), potentially setting the stage for the first abdication in two centuries.

Japanese Emperor Akihito, 83, hinted in August that he wanted to abdicate, saying he worried that age might make it difficult for him to carry out his duties fully. Abdication is not possible under current Japanese law.

However, media reports said the government was considering steps that would allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate and for 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the throne on Jan 1, 2019. The abdication itself would take place on Dec 31, 2018, or Jan 1, some reports said.

A panel of experts has been discussing the issue since late last year, with recommendations expected later this year. The government could submit a special law to parliament on abdication as early as this spring, the reports said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that he was not aware of any such situation.

"The experts are prioritising how to lighten the Emperor's burden in their discussions and things are still at a stage where no direction has emerged," he told a news conference.

Emperor Akihito has had heart surgery and has been treated for prostate cancer. He took the throne after the 1989 death of his father Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War Two, and has worked to heal the wounds of the conflict.