Japan cabinet approves bill to let emperor abdicate

The 83-year-old, who has had heart surgery and prostate cancer treatment, said last year that he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfil his duties. Thus, the politicians had to craft legislation to make it possible.

Akihito indicated his apparent desire to abdicate in a rare video message in August, but no emperor had abdicated for the past 200 years and current laws do not provide for it.

But there is no provision under the existing law for him to abdicate and be succeeded by Crown Prince Naruhito.

The government will set the date for the abdication, which is expected to be in December 2018.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday that the government "hopes for the smooth passage of the legislation".

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While abdications are far from unknown in Japanese history - the last one was in 1817 - some people still believe being emperor is a lifetime job.

Some have suggested that female members of the family who marry commoners should stop losing their royal status - as will happen to Akihito's granddaughter Princess Mako when she weds her college sweetheart.

Imperial law requires an Emperor to serve for life, but Akihito's announcement put plans into motion for the Japanese parliament to allow the Emperor to step aside should he choose to.

There are only four heirs in the line of succession - Akihito's two middle-aged sons, Akihito's octogenarian brother, and Hisahito, the 10-year-old son of Akihito's younger son. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has issued an executive order banning smoking in all public places nationwide, in the absence of a law stronger than the 14-year-old Tobacco Regulation Act.

If Hisahito only has daughters, the family is likely to face a succession crisis unless laws are changed.

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The DP is demanding the inclusion of the phrase "establishing imperial branch houses headed by female family members" in the resolution, as well as the timing of creating such branch houses.

Japan's Emperor Akihito (R) and Empress Michiko leave after praying at the altar of late Prince Tomohito, a cousin of the Emperor, in Tokyo June 19, 2012.

The bill also did not mention about the imperial family allowing women to stay in the palace upon marriage, Reuters noted.

However, the Japan Times cited a senior imperial household agency official as saying that it would be "difficult" for the crown prince to begin his reign as the new emperor on Jan 1, 2019, as had been previously reported, due to New Year's Day events.

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