Before going to bed on Thursday night, May 4, 2017 I read on Facebook about 95-year-old Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh announcing his retirement from active royal duties in August this year, citing his age. Then in the Friday, May 5, 2017 morning newspaper I read the same news. At the same time, Japanese morning television covered the story extensively because Japan is currently dealing with its own royal retirement issue. In a televised speech to the nation last year the 83-year-old Emperor Akihito expressed his desire to abdicate and retire, also citing his age. In that respect there is some parallel here.
So far, Japanese law has not provided for a royal abdication, so accepting the Emperor's expressed desire to retire created a legal problem. The last imperial abdication here was centuries ago. For many months now the government has been considering the matter and has been preparing a bill for the National Diet (legislature) to provide for a one-off abdication. I mean, not a permanent, legal abdication mechanism that would interfere with a smooth Imperial succession.
Then the Saturday, May 20, 2017 edition of The Japan Times daily featured the story “Cabinet OKs one-time-only abdication bill” on the front page. It reported that “The government is looking at December 2018, when the Emperor turns 85, as the timing for his abdication, which will likely trigger a change in Japan’s gengo (era name), which remains in use throughout an emperor’s reign, at the start of 2019. I cannot disregard the possibility that the government might be looking towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with a desire to have the imperial situation taken care of smoothly well before the global magnifying glass turns towards us.
On Friday, June 9, 2017 the National Diet enacted an abdication law for Emperor Akihito, paving the way for Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, to rise to the Imperial throne. . His abdication was reported in the Saturday, June 10, 2017 Japan Times newspaper as expected to take place at the end of 2018. It would be Japan's first abdication in about 200 years, since current law only allows Imperial succession to take place when an emperor dies. The government was reported to decided on the timing of an abdication by issuing an ordinance. The abdication will usher in a change in Japan's era name, or "nengo." Japan currently uses both Western and traditional calendar systems. The current "nengo" is called Heisei 29, which refers to the 29th year of the era of Emperor Akihito.