Japan Cabinet approves Bill allowing Emperor Akihito's abdication

Japan's government has approved a bill that will allow emperor Akihito to become the country's first monarch in two centuries to abdicate.

In Japan, it is absolute clearly who will be the next to the throne - Crown Prince Naruhito, the 57-year-old son of Emperor.

According to the bill, the emperor and his wife Empress Michiko would keep the honorific title of "heika" which means "Your Majesty" after the abdication.

Akihito, who turns 85 years next year, would mark almost 30 full years on the Chrysanthemum Throne as the emperor.

Debate in the past has also focused on the possibility of allowing female succession - most recently in 2004 when there was no male successor to follow Naruhito.

Emperor Akihito is abdicating to make way for his son Prince Naruhito.

The abdication, the first in 200 years, is creating all sorts of headaches for protocol specialists in the Japanese government. The emperor avoided using the word "abdication" in his address.

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Imperial law is strict: Succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne must be posthumous and only males are eligible, as Kyodo News reports.

A six-member government panel was set up last September to hear opinions of experts on the constitution and other fields and to hold discussions on necessary legal changes to enable the emperor to abdicate and on the status of and treatment given to the retired emperor. "Otherwise, we will lose more and more members from the imperial family".

Both steps have been suggested as ways to deal with a shortage of male heirs and a shrinking pool of royals generally, a problem thrust back into the limelight this week, with news that Akihito's eldest granddaughter will marry a commoner, after which she too must become a commoner. Princess Mako's brother, 10-year-old Hisahito, is the fourth heir to the throne and the only boy in his generation.

Akihito is the 125th emperor since Emperor Jimmu, said to be a descendant of the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu.

Akihito ascended the throne in January 1989, at the age of 56, following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

As The New York Times explains, "Any decision regarding the emperor is freighted in Japan, where until World War II, he was seen as a god".


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