Four top officials of the Imperial Household Agency and one retired official have secretly considered Emperor Akihito's intention to abdicate, sources close to the agency said.
The agency has coordinated its views with the prime minister's office on the issue. Since the matter marks a major change in the Imperial system, the agency will consider the timing of an official announcement on the matter in a bid to win broad public understanding.
According to the sources, the four officials -- two top bureaucrats including agency head Noriyuki Kazaoka and two top-ranking chamberlains -- and a retired official well versed in the Imperial Household system have considered important points in the Imperial Household system. Insiders call their talks "Four-plus-one meetings."
The Emperor has met with his two sons, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino, once a month since seven years ago. During their meetings, they reportedly discussed the future of the Imperial Family.
Four-plus-one meetings were sometimes held following talks between the Emperor and his sons. In mid-May, the four officials and the retiree sped up their activities, often holding meetings early in the morning apparently to consider procedures for the Emperor's abdication.
In some cases, these five met at the grand steward's office as early as 8 a.m. At these meetings, they have considered revising the Imperial House Law, the issue of an era name and the title of the Emperor after abdication. The agency coordinated their views with Kazuhiro Sugita, deputy chief Cabinet secretary at the prime minister's office. Grand Chamberlain Chikao Kawai and others reported what was decided at these meetings to the Emperor and the Empress.
The agency reported the outcome of a four-plus-one meeting to the Emperor the day before the Imperial Couple left for the Hayama Imperial Villa in Kanagawa Prefecture on July 11 for rest.
Kazaoka even visited the prime minister's office during the campaign for the July 10 House of Councillors election.