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Many legal revisions needed before Emperor's possible abdication

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third from left, meets with the government panel studying the possible abdication of Emperor Akihito at the prime minister's office on Jan. 23, 2017. On the right of Abe is the panel's chairman Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation. (Mainichi)

A government panel on the possible abdication of Emperor Akihito will need to tackle a mountain of issues regarding preparations for the Emperor's retirement as the government looks to pass related bills by the end of the current regular Diet session to allow him to pass down the throne.

The panel, which released its interim report on Jan. 23 suggesting the enactment of a one-time special law to allow the abdication just for Emperor Akihito, plans to issue a proposal on the issue by this spring to meet the government's intended schedule to submit the related bills to the Diet around a long holiday period in May.

Since the Imperial House Law, Imperial House Economy Law or other related legislation do not assume an emperor's retirement, revisions to various articles will be required regarding the former emperor, including stipulations on whether the former emperor should be addressed as "His Majesty." The former emperor's housing, aid organization and its staff size, as well as budgets for these institutions need to be decided. New provisions to remove the retired emperor from the succession line and on whether he would become a regent are also necessary.

Furthermore, the government panel needs to consider about the funeral for the former emperor, including whether to call the event "Taiso-no-Rei" (the Rites of Imperial Funerals), as well as about the size of the ceremony.

During hearing sessions with experts in November 2016, several people raised concerns about the current and former emperors existing as equals, saying that the symbol of the nation could split. They argued that the former emperor should not take part at all in public services.

The Imperial Household Agency told the panel meeting on Jan. 11 that as a rule the new emperor will take over all public duties performed by the emperor, adding that, however, what the former emperor will do as public services will depend on his intention and not to be forced by a third party.

Meanwhile, Prince Akishino will be the first in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito becomes the emperor. In that case, the "crown prince" -- the eldest son of the emperor -- will cease to exist, and there will be a need to establish a new position, "brother of the emperor," under the Imperial House Law, or enact a clause, under which Prince Akishino is treated like a crown prince.

Preparations for Emperor Akihito's abdication will continue for some years even after the related bills are passed. The government is considering changing the name of the Japanese era, which is now Heisei, on Jan. 1, 2019, and if the bills are enacted, preparations for the new name will go into full swing. When the name of the Showa era was changed after the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989, officials had prepared the new era name behind the scenes and the new name Heisei became effective the day after Emperor Hirohito's death. If the time of Emperor Akihito's abdication is decided beforehand, the government will consider whether public debate over the name of the new era is possible.

Ceremonies for the new emperor to ascend to the throne will continue until the fall of 2019, including the Daijosai festival during which the new emperor offers rice to the gods -- an event following the enthronement ceremony.

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