TOKYO -- Japan's Imperial House Council will convene next week to discuss the timing of Emperor Akihito's abdication, as the government looks to firm up the date.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday told reporters that the council will meet on Dec. 1. Two options in 2019 are currently on the table: March 31 or April 30. The latter date is gaining more support within the government, according to insiders.
In both cases, Crown Prince Naruhito would ascend to the throne the following day.
A special law that passed earlier this year clears the way for the emperor to step down, in accordance with his wishes. The historic legislation stipulates that the abdication date will be set with a government ordinance, following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's consultations with other council participants. The law will kick in on the official abdication date.
The timing will be finalized based on the council's discussion. Suga said the government hopes to confirm the date as early as possible, with the council's help.
Many administrative functions in Japan use an Imperial era system. The name of the era changes with the accession of a new emperor. To allow ample time before the current Heisei era ends, the government aims to announce the next name by the end of 2018.
Weighing the options
A March 2019 abdication would coincide with the end of the typical administrative and fiscal year. This would likely simplify procedures associated with the move. On the flip side, though, the political calendar is full around that time, which explains the apparent preference for a later date.
Generally, debates between the ruling and opposition parties heat up in March, as they spar over budget details. March 2019 is shaping up to be particularly busy because unified local elections, held once every four years, are slated for that April.
All of this would be over by the end of April. In addition, this timing would line up a series of key dates for the Imperial family -- from the birthday of the late Emperor Showa on April 29, to the abdication of Akihito on April 30, followed by the enthronement of the new emperor the next day.
Additionally, an abdication in spring 2019 would honor the current emperor's wish to attend, while still on the throne, the 30th anniversary commemoration of his father's death on Jan. 7, 2019.
The Imperial House Council, whose meetings are called and chaired by the prime minister, will be taking these factors into account. The council of 10 also includes leaders from the three branches of government and members of the Imperial family.