Japan cabinet approves bill allowing emperor's abdication

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Japan's cabinet took the first step Friday toward allowing him to abdicate - but not until the end of next year, when Akihito will be turning 85 and will have served 30 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Japan's popular emperor, the 83-year-old Akihito, last summer asked the government to allow him to retire, an unprecedented step but one brought about, he said, by his inability to do the job to the fullest.

But current Japanese law has no provision for abdication, thus requiring politicians to craft legislation to make it possible. When she marries she will become a commoner. The legislation endorsed Friday, May 19, 2017 would allow Crown Prince Naruhito to succeed his father as emperor.

While abdications are far from unknown in Japanese history, the last one was in 1817.

Akihito indicated his apparent desire to abdicate in a rare video message in August, but no emperor has abdicated for the past 200 years and current laws do not provide for it.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, has been on the throne since the death of his father, Hirohito, in 1989 and is loved and revered by many Japanese.

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The discussion about the role of royal women arose again this week after it was announced that Princess Mako, Akihito's eldest grandchild, was to be engaged to a commoner.

When Naruhito, who has a daughter but no sons, ascends the throne, his younger brother Akishino will be next in line, followed by Hisahito, Akishino's 10-year-old son.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on the other hand, is reluctant to include a phrase on establishing imperial branch houses headed by women, which would allow female members to remain in the Imperial Family after marriage.

Under the current law, female members of the imperial family are not allowed to inherit the throne.

In 2005, with hopes for a male heir fading, then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi prepared to challenge a 1947 law limiting succession to male descendants of an emperor.

According to Japanese news reports, the bill states the public's "understanding" and "sympathy" for the ageing emperor's "deep concern" about becoming unable to fulfill his duties eventually as a reason to set up the special-case abdication law.

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