When Japanese Emperor Akihito announced his plans to retire last summer following a bout of ill health, he faced a major logistical barrier: The Imperial Household Law, which governs Japan’s royal line of succession, did not allow for his abdication. Before Akihito’s reign, the last abdication in Japan occurred in 1817. On Friday, Japan’s lower parliament agreed on a solution to its legal obstacle by passing a provisional bill that will permit the current emperor to abdicate the throne. While the law still awaits approval next week from the upper house of parliament, the lower house is widely recognized as the more powerful branch, capable of overriding vetoes from the upper house with a two-thirds majority.
Amid fears that permanently allowing emperors to abdicate could subject monarchs to political manipulation, the new bill is set to expire in three years, and cannot be applied to any subsequent emperor. Legislators were open to the special provision due to Akihito’s age and declining health. The emperor, who is now 83 years old, underwent heart bypass surgery in 2012 and previously received treatment for prostate cancer, including a surgery in 2003. The surgery marked the first time a Japanese emperor was operated on outside of palace grounds, once more signaling the progressive direction of Akihito’s monarchy. As Japan’s ruler during World War II, Akihito’s father, Emperor Shōwa, was accused of carrying out horrific war crimes. As a result, Akihito’s nearly 30-year reign has been characterized by making amends for past suffering inflicted by Japan.