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Politics

Change at Imperial House must come through public debate

TOKYO -- Revising Japanese law to allow the emperor to abdicate would demand careful adherence to legislative procedure. Any impression that the change comes at the current emperor's behest would raise uncomfortable constitutional issues.

That is probably why the Imperial Household Agency denied media reports that Emperor Akihito had expressed a desire to abdicate. The emperor, who has no authority under the constitution over matters of state, would never make remarks about specific institutions, Grand Steward Noriyuki Kazaoka told reporters Thursday.

But an agency source says that Akihito has spoken of wanting to abdicate for at least five years.

Government-appointed panels have discussed possible changes to this law in recent years, with respect to allowing female members of the Imperial family to inherit the throne and maintain their status when they marry outside the family. In each case, the cabinet laid out the topics for the panel members to discuss.

Emperor Akihito's wishes, if he had any, did not enter into the process.

Allowing the emperor to cede the throne would mark a major reform to the institution, which was rendered purely symbolic by the postwar constitution. Such a change should come through a national debate.

If what the source said is true -- and it appears so -- Emperor Akihito's intention to abdicate has been thrust into the public sphere. This could raise a hurdle to the change he reportedly seeks.

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