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Gov't to forgo title 'retired emperor' upon abdication, mulls 'former emperor'

The government is set to forgo the use of the title "joko" (retired emperor) for Emperor Akihito upon his abdication, and is instead mulling referring to him as a "former emperor," it has been learned.

The government had earlier considered calling the Emperor after retirement "dajo (daijo) tenno," or "joko" for short, which had been historically used in Japan. However, the government shifted its policy after judging that "joko" could generate concerns over the stability of the Imperial Throne, as those in the "joko" position used to possess superior power to emperors and often dominated the government in the past.

The government is considering using "zen tenno" or "moto tenno" (former emperor), which will less likely be regarded as superior to the emperor. The government will include the new titles in its bills related to the abdication issue to be submitted to the Diet this spring or later.

Regarding the honorific titles for Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko after the Emperor's retirement, some in the government argue for retaining the current titles "His Majesty" and "Her Majesty" ("heika" in Japanese), instead of reverting to their previous titles "His Imperial Highness" and "Her Imperial Highness" ("denka" in Japanese) that were in place before the Emperor's enthronement in 1989.

Under this scenario, the current Emperor will be referred to as "zen tenno heika" or "moto tenno heika" (his former majesty the emperor) upon abdication.

From the late Heian period (794-1185) through the mid-Kamakura period (1185-1333), those in the "joko" position often wielded power by adopting the so-called "insei" (cloistered government) rule. While some in the government's expert panel on abdication brushed aside concerns for the title's possible impact on modern society, saying, "There is a jump in associating the term with the Emperor as the symbol of the state under the current Constitution, as 'retired emperors' in the insei era had abdicated for the sake of possessing power," others called for caution, with one close to the panel saying, "It carries this image that 'retired emperor' could cause double authority and give rise to friction." There are also concerns that the historic title of "joko" could give authority to the retired emperor and cause a split in the Emperor's role as "the symbol of the unity of the people" between the outgoing and incoming emperors. The government decided to forgo the use of the title "joko" after taking these points at issue into account.

In July 2010, Emperor Akihito told a meeting of special advisers to the Imperial Household Agency, "I will become joko." The government is poised to include in the related bills on abdication a provision for preventing the reinstatement of the Emperor by excluding him from the line to the Imperial Throne, on top of the new titles and honorific titles for the Emperor upon abdication.

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