The date for the Emperor’s abdication has effectively been set. All-out efforts are urged to prepare for a smooth succession.
The Emperor is to abdicate on April 30, 2019. The crown prince will ascend the throne on May 1, and a new era will start on that day. This is the consensus of a meeting of the Imperial House Council, which includes the heads of the administrative, legislative and judicial branches of government and Imperial family members.
Initially, the government had considered a schedule that put the “abdication on December 31, 2018, and the change of era on January 1, 2019”.
But the Imperial Household Agency showed reluctance towards this option, saying a number of Imperial ceremonies are scheduled at the beginning of the year. Another option to have the “abdication on March 31, 2019, and the change of era on April 1” to coincide with the start of the fiscal year was also shelved, for reasons such as that those dates are shortly before local elections.
Discussions on the abdication date are said to have eventually settled on prioritising a “quiet setting”.
With the abdication set to occur on April 30, the current Heisei era will end one month into its 31st fiscal year.
The use of Japanese era names has taken root among the people of this country. Although used less frequently today, Japanese era names are still employed by government bodies, banks and other entities.
It is necessary that the change in era cause the minimum amount of confusion in people’s lives. The government is urged to take thorough countermeasures. It is desired that a new era name to replace Heisei be announced as early as possible.
The Emperor’s abdication will be the first in about 200 years, since Emperor Kokaku stepped down during the Edo period (1603-1867). The ceremony back then took the form of reading out the Imperial rescript for the abdication. But if this style is followed, it could conflict with the Constitution and its stipulation that the Emperor “shall not have powers related to government”.
The latest abdication will be based on a “special measures law enabling the Emperor to abdicate”. Careful consideration also should be given as to whether ceremonies related to the abdication will be regarded as state affairs. A study panel, to be led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and launched in early January, is urged to discuss theses issues from various perspectives.
The Emperor, who will be referred to as “joko” after the abdication, will basically step back from official duties, but is expected to continue private activities such as travel.
It would be undesirable for the joko to give the impression that he stands on an equal footing with the emperor, who is the “symbol of Japan”.
The government should make clear its stance on what is proper regarding the joko’s activities.
It is also necessary to waste no time in discussing details on staffing a section that will be established at the Imperial Household Agency to support the joko, as well as on the joko’s residence. Preparations for the accession ceremony and Daijosai (Grand Thanksgiving festival), both planned to be held in 2019, also must not be neglected.
There will be no crown prince, while Prince Akishino will be called “koshi” and become first in line to the throne.
In addition to his current activities, he will also take over the crown prince’s duties. It is vital to take steps to prevent an excessive burden on him.
In an additional resolution, the special measures law calls for considering measures to ensure stable Imperial succession, including the creation of female Imperial branches.