TOKYO: A special panel chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has agreed that the date of Emperor Akihito's planned abdication - the first by a Japanese monarch in about two centuries - should be on Apr 30, 2019, national broadcaster NHK reported on Friday (Dec 1).
Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in rare remarks last year that he feared age might make it hard to fulfil his duties.
A law adopted in June allows Akihito to step down, but left details such as timing to be worked out later. He will be succeeded by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
Akihito, along with Empress Michiko, has spent much of his time on the throne seeking to soothe the wounds of a World War Two, which was fought in his father Hirohito’s name, and consoling victims of disasters or other woes. He is widely respected by many average Japanese.
Akihito has consistently urged the people never to forget the horrors of war, remarks that have garnered increased attention since Abe took office in 2012 and sought to adopt a less apologetic tone towards Japan's past military aggression.
"He redefined the job. He wanted to modernise the monarchy and take care of the unfinished business ... and bring the imperial household closer to the people," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan.
"He’s been remarkably successful on all fronts. He is deeply admired and respected. His moral authority is unquestioned."
Once Akihito steps down a new “imperial era” will begin, replacing the current “Heisei” or “achieving peace” period which began on Jan 8, 1989, the day he took the throne.
Japan uses the Western-style Gregorian calendar but has also preserved the ancient custom in which the reign of a new emperor ushers in a new era.
The last time a Japanese emperor abdicated was in 1817.
A law adopted in June allows Akihito to step down, but left details such as timing to be worked out later.