Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down from the throne after three decades on April 30, 2019 – the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in two centuries, Reuters reported. He will be succeeded by his heir, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the abdication date after a government and royal panel met to discuss the timing.
Akihito, who turns 84 in December, has been unwell. In a rare remark in 2016, he said he feared age would make it hard for him to fulfil his duties. Akihito’s statement was interpreted as a wish for abdication, which is currently not allowed under the law, BBC reported.
However, as public sympathy grew for the emperor, the Japanese government decided to enact a bill that will allow him to step down. The legislation is an exception, and will not allow Naruhito or his successors to abdicate, the BBC report said.
“This is the first abdication by an emperor in 200 years and the first under the (post-war) Constitution,” Abe said.
Akihito and Empress Michiko have spent much of their time on Japan’s throne trying to soothe the wounds of the Second World War, which was fought in the name of his father Hirohito. The couple have worked to reconstruct ties across Asia that were affected by Japan’s aggression before and during the War.
In 1992, Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to visit China, during which the emperor said he “deeply deplored” an “unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great suffering on the people of China”, according to Reuters. He has also constantly asked the Japanese people never to forget the horrors of war.
Akihito’s abdication will mark the end of the Heisei or “achieving peace” era, which began on January 8, 1989, the day he took the throne. The Heisei era ends once Akihito’s son takes over.