TOKYO - The Japanese government on Friday approved a bill that will allow Emperor Akihito to hand over the Chrysanthemum throne to his heir, Naruhito, in what will be the first abdication of a Japanese emperor in 200 years.
The bill, which will make it possible to circumvent the imperial law that currently prevents the Emperor from abdicating, was approved during a cabinet meeting.
The law will be sent to parliament later today, where the government hopes it will be approved without further obstruction by mid-June.
If approved, it would enable the first abdication in Japan in 200 years, when Emperor Kokaku stepped down in 1817.
The government believes that the ideal moment for the abdication is in December 2018, when the Emperor turns 85 and completes three decades as head of state.
The bill has been designed specifically for Akihito in order to prevent future abdications, given the problems facing the imperial family regarding its succession line.
These problems have recently been highlighted when Akihito's granddaughter, Princess Mako, 25, announced three days ago that she plans to marry her college friend, which will result in the princess losing her royal status.
In addition to prohibiting abdication, the 1947 imperial law does not recognize the so-called collateral institutional branches, making female members of the royal family lose their royal status when marrying a commoner, which has since substantially reduced the number of members of the Japanese royal family.
With Mako leaving the palace, the Japanese royal family, the world's oldest reigning hereditary dynasty, will be left with 18 members.
Among those 18, only three, apart from Akihito, are male with access to the throne: Crown Prince Naruhito, 57; his brother Akishino, 51, and his son Hisahito, 10, who is also Princess Mako's younger brother.
Although abdication has been common throughout the history of the Chrysanthemum Throne and women were, in the past, eligible for the throne (the last one in the eighteenth century), the 1947 law allows only men to occupy the throne.