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Japan: Emperor Akihito Announces Intention to Abdicate

(July 14, 2016) It was reported on July 13, 2016, that Emperor Akihito of Japan intends to abdicate the throne in favor of his first son, Crown Prince Naruhito.  (Emperor Expressed His Intention to ‘Abdicate,’ NHK News Web (July 13, 2016) (in Japanese).)  As there is no provision on abdication in the Imperial House Act, the law that governs the operations of Imperial institutions, an amendment to the Act would be required before the abdication can occur.  (Imperial House Act, Act No. 3 of 1947 (Jan. 16, 1947), E-GOV.GO.JP (in Japanese); Imperial House Law (1947), Imperial Household Agency website.)

The Imperial House Act has not had a major amendment since its enactment during the Allied Occupation (1945-1952) just after World War II; the only change was a minor technical amendment in 1949 under Act No. 134 of 1949. (Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945–52, U.S. State Department Office of the Historian website, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/japan-reconstruction (last visited July 13, 2016).)  Its amendment was discussed once, in 2005.  At that time, Emperor Akihito did not have a male grandchild.  Since the Act states that only male heirs can be Emperors (art. 1), the absence of a future Emperor was a concern.  (Hidehiko Kasahara, Nihon no Koshitsu o meguru genjo to kadai [Current Situation and Tasks Regarding the Japanese Imperial House], NIPPON.COM (Feb. 9, 2012).)

The Advisory Council on the Imperial House Law was established to consider and conclude whether eligibility for the Throne must be extended to Imperial Family members who are female or of female lineage.  The Council published a report on the issue in September 2005.  (The Advisory Council on the Imperial House Law Report (translated Nov. 24, 2005).)  However, after the pregnancy of the wife of the Emperor’s second son was reported in early 2006 and the subsequent birth of a male grandchild occurred in the fall of that year, the discussion on amending the law was abandoned.  (Kasahara, supra.)