Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down on March 31, 2019 and the Crown Prince is expected to ascend the throne in April, a report said Friday, the first imperial retirement in more than two centuries.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet top officials and members of the royal household next month before announcing the date, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, citing unnamed government sources.
Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day on April 1, the paper said.
The popular 83-year-old Akihito shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems.
There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, but the last one was more than 200 years ago.
In June, the parliament passed a rule allowing the ageing emperor to step down but the Asahi report is the first time a precise date for the abdication has been mooted.
“It is an immeasurable relief to me that his majesty … can now have days of rest as he reaches an advanced age,” Empress Michiko, who turned 83 Friday, said in a statement.
The abdication law, which applies only to Akihito and not to future emperors, included a resolution to debate letting female royals stay in the imperial family after marriage but did not touch on the controversial topic of allowing women to inherit.
Japan’s top government spokesman denied the Asahi report on Friday.
“We are not aware of the report and there is not such fact,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
“We will continue to discuss appropriately and will do our best to carry out the emperor’s abdication smoothly,” he said.