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News Navigator: How is the abdication of an emperor decided in Japan?

The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the planned abdication of Emperor Akihito, following an agreement by the Imperial House Council for him to abdicate on April 30, 2019.

Question: Who decides on the Emperor's abdication?

Answer: During the Meiji Period, it was decided that the Emperor would remain in his position for life, to avoid political turmoil over Imperial succession, among other reasons. Accordingly, the current Imperial House Law allows for succession only upon the demise of the emperor, meaning emperors cannot abdicate. However, a special law passed in the Diet in June made it possible for Emperor Akihito alone to abdicate, and it was decided that the date of his abdication would be determined by government decree. This decree is decided by the Cabinet, meaning that the government has the power to make the decision.

Q: Is it OK to make such a decision without hearing the opinion of the Emperor?

A: Article 4 of the Constitution of Japan states that the Emperor "shall not have powers related to government." However, the opposition Democratic Party requested that abdication be based on the Emperor's will on the matter, to ensure that he was not being forced to abdicate against his will. Under the special law that was established following deliberation between ruling and opposition parties, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was required to hear the opinion of the Imperial House Council, which includes members of the Imperial Family, before deciding on an abdication date. Nevertheless, discretion to make a decision still lies in the hands of the government and so the opinion of the Imperial House Council is taken as a reference point, rather than being binding.

Q: If another emperor abdicates in the future, what needs to be done?

A: That's a difficult question. Using the abdication of the current Emperor as an example, an emperor could abdicate in future through the enactment of a special law. But the question of how to go about ascertaining at that time whether abdication was in fact the will of the emperor would once again pose difficulties.

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