Japan’s First Imperial Abdication in Two Centuries Now Has a Date

December 1, 2017, 9:29 AM UTC
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People look at a big video screen on the street as a speech by Japanese Emperor Akihito to the nation is televised in Tokyo on August 8, 2016. Emperor Akihito said on August 8 he is concerned his weakening health may make it hard to fulfil his duties, in a speech seen as signalling a possible future abdication. / AFP / TORU YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Toru Yamanaka — AFP/ Getty Images

Emperor Akihito of Japan will abdicate the Chrysanthemum Throne at the end of April 2019, the country’s government has announced. He will be succeeded by Crown Prince Naruhito, Akihito’s oldest child.

With the law generally not allowing emperors to abdicate, Akihito will be the first to do so in two centuries—the last was Kōkaku, in 1817.

However, Akihito, who is 83 and will have held the role for 30 years at the time of his imminent abdication, indicated in a rare public address last year that he was “concerned” about his ability to fulfil his duties as emperor.

The role of Japanese emperor is a symbolic one these days, and it was really up to the government to decide what to do about Akihito’s implied desire to step down.

The government passed legislation in June allowing Akihito to abdicate within the next three years. The time-limited law is specific to this emperor.

And now a date has been set for Akihito’s departure. The timing, which will come after the beginning of a new fiscal year, will reportedly allow people to take longer holidays than usual.

“I feel deeply moved that the decision was made smoothly by the Imperial House Council, marking a major step toward an imperial succession,” said prime minister Shinzō Abe on Friday after a meeting of the council, which includes politicians, supreme court judges and members of the imperial family.

Akihito is the son of the late emperor Hirohito, who was head of state when Japan attacked China and the U.S. in World War II.