ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon Print

Emperor Akihito's lonely struggle to reform Japan's imperial system

Monarch's desire for democratic change makes him the rightful national symbol

| Japan
 (placeholder image)
Japanese Emperor Akihito, left, and Empress Michiko watch a martial arts competition celebrating the 130th anniversary of the foundation of the Imperial Guard in Tokyo on Jan. 19.   © Reuters

Emperor Akihito of Japan has a complicated retirement plan. A government-appointed advisory panel of business and scholarly figures will shortly begin final deliberations on whether -- and how -- he should abdicate. The tenor of the interim report issued in January suggests that the panel will unanimously recommend that the 83-year-old monarch be permitted to step down -- but only as a one-off exception, which would not apply to future emperors. A special bill will then be submitted to the Diet, which could go into effect in the summer. An imperial abdication -- a first in modern times -- would thus be achieved, "speedily" and "prudently," in the words of one panel member. The idea of exceptional permission is intended to save the trouble of altering the Imperial House Law which stipulates, among other things, a lifetime reign for the emperor, and a male succession line.

Superficially, the emperor seems to be getting what he deserves -- the right to retire, after years of service to the nation as its symbol and its highest-ranking ambassador. But the suggested one-time deal cannot be a happy outcome for him. He has made it publicly clear that his wish is not to find an easy way out for himself, but to humanize the imperial system for later generations.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

Discover the all new Nikkei Asia app

  • Take your reading anywhere with offline reading functions
  • Never miss a story with breaking news alerts
  • Customize your reading experience

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more