Way forward after Japanese Emperor Akihito’s abdication

opinion January 08, 2018 01:00

The Japanese government has officially set the date for Emperor Akihito’s abdication as April 30, 2019, and the date for the crown prince’s accession to the throne as May 1, 2019, following Cabinet approval on December 8.



The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted two interviews about institutional issues and public perception regarding the abdication, which will be the first to take place in about 200 years.

Abdication reflects ageing society

Keiko Aso 

The emperor’s image and the Imperial family mirror the social conditions of the times. The concept of what they should be like has continuously changed, depending on the era. I believe that the succession resulting from the Emperor’s abdication also reflects the times.

Modern Japan has seen great advances in medical treatment, and its society is ageing. It has become very common to live until one’s 80s or 90s.

Those who have retired from work spend their remaining years watching over their children and grandchildren and enjoying their hobbies. It was unnatural that only the emperor must work throughout his life. The emperor has shown a “way for an emperor to retire” that matches the times.

Various debates followed his “message” delivered in August 2016.

But his abdication, which is set to take place on April 30, 2019, with the support of the people, will serve as the culmination of his continued efforts to develop the image of an emperor as a symbol of the state.

The emperor was the first prince in Imperial family history to marry a commoner princess, and they were the first to raise their children themselves. Such a style of the emperor fitted with the times. I think the emperor did so believing it would be accepted by the people.

The Imperial line that has continued as a hereditary system up through the present 125th emperor is quite rare in the world.

Looking back on the emperor’s life, we are reminded again that the line has continued without interruption because they flexibly adjusted their way of living and lifestyle with the times.

A new era will begin in one year and four months. I believe that the image of an emperor and an Imperial family that reflects the conditions of the times will most certainly be created in the next 

era.

The Heisei era saw the collapse of the bubble economy and the “lost two decades”.

Not a few people have pursued the ideal of a family they see in the Imperial family made by the emperor and the empress. 

Thereafter, societal values that attached special importance to a high academic background and high income have vanished, and forms of happiness have diversified.

We have entered a new era in which people live as they are and various forms of happiness are mutually acknowledged, rather than just aiming for the top. In the next era, the people will accept the image of the crown prince’s family as one form of happiness.

Ikumen – fathers who take an active role in parenting – have recently become a topic of conversation. Overwork has become a societal issue, and work-style reforms to shorten working hours are accelerating. After the crown prince ascends the throne, he may take an active role in the education of Princess Aiko and share official duties with other members of the Imperial family in order to reduce the time performing official 

duties.

The Imperial family reflects the way we live. I would like to watch carefully the new image of an emperor crafted by the crown prince.

As the emperor is expected to abdicate in good health, he will be able to see the image of a next emperor created by the crown prince. The emperor may be feeling a sense of relief, as he can closely watch over the crown prince’s start as the new emperor.

Diet should discuss succession

Makoto Oishi 

It cannot be denied that legislation for the special measures law to enable the current emperor to abdicate was prompted by his “message”, in which he hinted at wanting to abdicate, in August 2016. Regarding the desired structure of the Imperial family system, a permanent system should be established by amending the Imperial House Law so it is not influenced by any emperor’s personal character or statements.

It should not be forgotten that according to the special measures law, the joko retired emperor position applies only in this case, and the systems for supporting the retired emperor, such as jokoshoku staff members supporting his activities, are merely temporary measures.

It is unknown how much authority has been given to the Imperial House Council, a meeting of which was held in line with the special measures law so the prime minister could hear opinions from imperial family members, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the House of Councillors, among others. Members of the council have many opportunities to interact with the emperor, and have a deep understanding of the imperial family. I suggest the role of council members be reviewed, in revising the Imperial House Law, so they would be authorised to approve abdications.

The ageing of the emperor has been considered an issue since the time of Emperor Showa. 

Political negligence left the issue unaddressed. Following the current emperor’s abdication, the crown prince will ascend to the throne at age 59. Should he reign for 20 years, he will be nearly 80, and the issues surrounding abdication may be repeated all over again. The succession could be a good opportunity to drastically reorganise and reduce the emperor’s public activities in order to mitigate the Imperial family’s burdens.

There is not much concern about the dual symbols of the state, and having the emperor and retired emperor standing side by side. The new emperor is expected to perform not only acts in matters of state that are stipulated in the Constitution, but also to carry out public activities such as visiting disaster areas. The modern era differs from the days when the joko had actual power.

Some people think the abdication ceremony should be carried out internally by the imperial family. However, taking into account the fact that steps as far as establishing the special measures law have been taken, it is possible to regard the ceremony as an act in matters of state, considering it a state ceremony based on Article 7 of the Constitution, which stipulates acts in matters of state that the emperor performs. 

One issue is how precedents such as Emperor Kokaku, who stepped down about 200 years ago, would be incorporated into the legal framework, including the Constitution, that prohibits the emperor from having powers related to the government.

If the ceremony were held in a way visible to the public, it would appear to be a turning point after which the emperor would no longer perform public activities, because he has abdicated. 

It would also be good if an abdication ceremony was held as an act in matters of state after the new emperor was enthroned, making it an opportunity to thank the emperor for his years of hard work.

Stable imperial succession is an important issue, and the Diet’s handling of the issue has not been sufficiently understandable. 

If more female imperial family members lose their imperial family status by marrying commoners in succession, it is clear that the number of imperial family members will taper off. 

Politicians should tackle issues squarely such as whether female and female-line emperors should be allowed.

Aso wrote lyrics for many hit pop songs. She also has written essays on her everyday life in Kyoto and is the author of many books. 

Oishi specialises in the Constitution. 

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