The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the possible abdication of Emperor Akihito, who has suggested his desire to step down from the throne.
Question: Is it not possible for Emperor Akihito to abdicate?
Answer: Article 2 of the Constitution of Japan states, "The Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law passed by the Diet." Article 4 of the Imperial House Law, which covers the position of the Imperial Family, says, "Upon the demise of the Emperor, the Imperial Heir shall immediately accede to the Throne." There is no mention of abdication, so under this system it is not possible for the emperor to abdicate.
Q: Was this the case in the past, too?
A: Historically, about half of Japan's emperors have abdicated. But following the abdication of Emperor Kokaku in the latter part of the Edo period (1603-1868), there have been no abdications for around 200 years. When the former Imperial House Law was created alongside the former Constitution of the Empire of Japan in the Meiji era, Hirobumi Ito, the first prime minister of Japan, did not allow abdication, fearing that it could influence politics.
Q: Can't it be permitted now?
A: In postwar Japan, debates on abdication have arisen several times in the Diet. But each time, the government has been reluctant to allow it, on the grounds that so-called "joko" (retired emperors) and "ho-o" (retired emperors who have entered the Buddhist priesthood) have influenced politics in the past, and that emperors could be made to abdicate against their will.
Q: How can abdication be permitted?
A: The prevailing view is that abdication does not run counter to the Constitution and that it could be made possible through revisions to the Imperial House Law and relevant legislation. But officials would have to think about the public duties of the former emperor after abdication and how to divide up his role with the new emperor. (Answers by Yusuke Tanabe, Hanshin Bureau)