Japan cabinet approves bill allowing emperor's abdication

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He declined to comment on the likely timing of the abdication, saying, "Discussions in the Diet will begin from now".

The bill does not refer to the Emperor's message released in August past year, in which he implied his intention to abdicate, in consideration of Article 4 of the Constitution that prohibits the Emperor from having any powers related to government.

The government rushed to devise new legislation after Akihito, 83, suggested in a rare televised address last summer that he feared his age and declining health would leave him unable to perform official duties.

Some scholars and politicians have also argued that changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate would risk Japan's monarchs becoming subject to political manipulation.

She is due to marry a commoner and in doing so will become one herself.

Under the current law, female members of the imperial family are not allowed to inherit the throne.

With Emperor Akihito pushing for reforms in the monarchy, the Oxford-educated Naruhito and his wife may further take it to the next level making the stress levels on Royal members relatively eased. Naruhito's heirs are his younger brother, Prince Akishino, and Akishino's son, Hisahito.

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Akihito's retirement and the forthcoming engagement of his granddaughter, princess Mako, have reignited debate about the shortage of male heirs and a possible succession crisis in an imperial line some claim stretches back 2,600 years.

■ The Emperor's Birthday national holiday will be changed from December 23 to February 23.

The abdication will be Japan's first in 200 years. For example, the bill states the title for the Empress after the Emperor's abdication is "jokogo".

"It is urgent that the system should be reformed so that female members can remain in the imperial family", Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus of legal history at Kyoto Sangyo University, told the Times.

Imperial law is strict: Succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne must be posthumous and only males are eligible, as Kyodo News reports. Prince Akishino's annual budget allocation for private expenses will increase threefold to 91.5 million yen ($822,000), according to the bill. Thus, Princess Aiko, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito, can not succeed her father.

If the one-off abdication bill passes in parliament as it is expected to, Akihito could become the first Japanese emperor to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku in 1817.

Reports of Emperor Akihito's desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July.

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