Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down on April 30, 2019 for health and age reasons, the prime minister Shinzo Abe announced Friday.
It would be the first retirement in more than two centuries in the imperial family believed to be the world’s oldest.
Abe said he was “deeply moved” at the “smooth decision” taken after a special meeting of the Imperial Council to decide on the date for the popular 83-year-old to step down for health reasons.
“The government will make utmost efforts to ensure that the Japanese people can celebrate the emperor’s abdication and the succession of the crown prince,” added Abe.
Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is expected to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day.
The emperor shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems.
There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history dating back more than 2,600 years but the last one was more than two centuries ago.
Akihito is the 125th person to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne since Emperor Jimmu, said to be a descendant of the legendary sun goddess Amaterasu.
Emperors have played a crucial role in the country’s native Shinto religion, conducting various annual rites and prayers for the prosperity of the nation.
– Female succession –
There is no republican movement to speak of in Japan and the emperor and the royal family enjoy the admiration of the vast majority of the country.
But Akihito’s unexpected move presented a challenge since there was no law to deal with an emperor retiring from what is usually a job for life — and it reignited debate about allowing women to ascend the traditionally male-only throne.