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1 year after historic message, preparations for Emperor's abdication pick up speed

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to people as they arrive at Koshinokuni Museum of Literature in Toyama on May 29, 2017. (Mainichi)

Preparations for the succession of the Imperial Throne and reorganization of Imperial Household Agency divisions supporting the Imperial Family are likely to shift into high gear following a video message released by Emperor Akihito on Aug. 8, 2016, suggesting his wish to abdicate.

A special law allowing Emperor Akihito to step down was enacted this past June. Since some of the work takes a long time, the decision on the date of his abdication may be brought forward.

"When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now," the Emperor said in the video message.

A senior official of the Imperial Household Agency said the public's empathy with His Majesty's thoughts has "pushed the moves (toward the Emperor's abdication) so far."

The special law stipulates that the date of Emperor Akihito's abdication should be fixed by government regulations and must be set within three years from the promulgation of the law.

The schedule under which Emperor Akihito would retire and Crown Prince Naruhito would accede to the throne at the end of 2018 is gaining support. If this happens, the era name would be changed on Jan. 1, 2019. At the same time, some within the Imperial Household Agency say it is desirable to avoid the year-end and New Year period for such changes as various Imperial Family events are concentrated at this time. In response to such an opinion, there is also a plan under which the Emperor would step down at the end of March 2019 and a new era name would be introduced on April 1.

It had been widely believed that the date of Emperor Akihito's abdication would be determined sometime around summer 2018. However, there is a possibility that the date will be brought forward and the government is even considering fixing the date in September this year.

With the succession of the Imperial Throne, it will be necessary to reorganize divisions within the Imperial Household Agency to support the Imperial Family. After retirement, the Emperor will be given the title of "joko," or a retired emperor, and Empress Michiko would become "jokogo."

The agency is set to establish an office of the retired emperor's household to support the activities of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko after his abdication. In addition, an "office of the imperial heir's household" will be established to support Prince Akishino, younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito who will take over many of the activities from the Crown Prince as the imperial heir.

These organizations will officially be launched the day after Emperor Akihito retires. "It's easier to work out plans on these new groups, such as an increase in personnel, if the abdication date is fixed," said a high-ranking official of the agency.

Enthronement ceremonies for the new emperor will be held in accordance with Imperial Family tradition, and it will take a considerable amount of time to prepare the necessary attire and other things. Considering that a large number of guests from overseas will attend the enthronement ceremonies, it is necessary for the concerned ministries and agencies to adjust the schedule of other events and allocate the necessary funds in advance.

Emperor Akihito will continue performing his official duties until he steps down. However, the agency may consider having the Crown Prince take over some of his father's duties in cases where the weather and other conditions are severe.

"It's desirable to fix the abdication date at an early stage so that His Majesty can perform his duty energetically as the symbol (of the State and of the unity of the people) and the succession can be carried out smoothly," said a high-ranking official of the Imperial Household Agency.

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