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Gov't outlines ceremony for Emperor's abdication to fit in with Constitution

Emperor Akihito, left, and Empress Michiko are seen in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Feb. 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

The government has outlined a plan for the abdication ceremony for Emperor Akihito conforming to the Constitution, which stipulates that sovereignty resides with the people and that the Emperor is the symbol of the state and the unity of the people.

One key point of contention was how to handle the issue of an imperial edict in which the Emperor would declare his intention to hand over the Imperial Throne. Such edicts were indispensable during abdication ceremonies of emperors in the past.

The government has basically decided that the prime minister will announce that the Emperor will retire in accordance with a special measures law on the Emperor's abdication.

The government reported the outcome of its hearings of opinions from four experts during a preparatory meeting for the abdication ceremony on Feb. 20.

All of the experts urged that the ceremony be held in accordance with the Constitution's spirit while respecting the traditions of the Imperial Household.

"In line with the principle of sovereignty residing with the people, the ceremony should be suited to the Emperor being the symbol of Japan," former Supreme Court Justice Itsuo Sonobe was quoted as saying during a hearing.

"The ceremony needs to be held in such a way that it conforms to the postwar Constitution while taking into consideration ceremonial traditions," Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus at Kyoto Sangyo University, was quoted as saying during a hearing.

In its plan for the abdication ceremony, the government proposed that the prime minister declare Emperor Akihito's abdication in accordance with the special measures law enacted by the Diet, on behalf of the people, and express gratitude to the Emperor. This is to clarify that the Emperor is stepping down under the law -- not just by his own will.

Emperor Akihito will read a statement on his retirement after the prime minister's declaration.

During the hearings, Sonobe, Tokoro and Keiko Hongo, professor at the University of Tokyo's Historiographical Institute, insisted that the Emperor read a statement on his abdication during the ceremony.

However, concerns remain that depending on the content of the Emperor's statement, it could constitute his involvement in national politics, which is banned by the Constitution. If Emperor Akihito mentions his abdication, it could give the public the impression that the Emperor is stepping down on his own will.

To avoid that, the government characterized the Emperor's statement as one addressing the public. The Cabinet and the Imperial Household Agency are expected to adjust the content of the Emperor's statement to conform to the Constitution.

Some conservatives claim that the Emperor's abdication ceremony and the Crown Prince's enthronement ceremony should be held at the same location on the same day so that the retiring Emperor can hand over a sacred sword and jewel to the new emperor as Imperial Regalia.

While the Constitution stipulates that the Emperor's position derives from the will of the people, who have sovereign power, conservatives have placed emphasis on the Emperor's position as the inheritor of the Imperial Regalia. However, a majority of the experts have voiced opposition to these opinions of conservatives.

Hongo told a hearing that since the aim of the abdication and enthronement ceremonies is to widely inform the public, there would be no problem if there were an interval between these two events.

Sonobe was quoted as telling a hearing that it would be inappropriate to hold a ceremony in which His Majesty hands over the Imperial Regalia while he is still on the Imperial Throne.

While showing consideration for the traditions of the Imperial Household, the government intends to clearly separate the abdication and enthronement ceremonies to avoid giving the public the impression that the Imperial Throne is being handed over through the ceremonies, from the viewpoint of conforming to constitutional provisions.

The government has decided that a chamberlain will bring the sacred sword and jewels into the room where the abdication ceremony will be held and leave the room with these items following the ceremony.

This is in line with the opinion expressed by former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara to the effect that it would be appropriate if these traditional items that have been handed over along with the Imperial Throne are placed near His Majesty at the time of imperial succession.


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