Japanese Emperor Akihito To Abdicate Throne

For the first time in history, the reigning Emperor of Japan will abdicate the throne in favor his eldest son rather than serving out the rest of his reign:

HONG KONG — The emperor of Japan will step down on April 30, 2019, the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in two centuries, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday.

Emperor Akihito, 83, said last year that he planned to step down before his death, and Friday’s announcement set the date.

Emperors were godlike figures in Japan before the end of World War II. When Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender over the radio on August 15, 1945, it was the first time average citizens had heard his voice.

The American victors stripped the Chrysanthemum Throne of all political power. Emperor Akihito, Hirohito’s eldest son, has a strictly ceremonial role but is a respected and popular figure in Japan.

Japan’s Parliament passed a law in June that allows the emperor to retire, and proposed considering allowing the position to be passed to a female descendant.

Emperor Akihito’s retirement would allow his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, to succeed him.

Politically this will have no real impact, of course, since the Emperor now serves a merely symbolic role and has even less power than other monarchs such as the Queen of England. Culturally, though, this will be a big shift for Japan, where monarchs have always served until they died.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    HRH Charles, Prince of Wales to ER2: Ahem.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    You’re making me feel old. I remember Akihito being the kid (at 53) replacing Hirohito. (Yes, kids, that Hirohito. Akihito is only the second Emperor since WWII. @michael reynolds: Just like the Brits.)

  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m convinced ER2 is refusing to die out of pure willpower until Charles dies so that it can go to Prince William.

  4. Anonne says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Or just minimize the amount of time in his hands.

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Her mother lived to 102, so that may entirely be possible.

    I think their primary worry is that affection for the concept of monarchy is inevitably tied to personal affection for the current monarch. Once she’s gone, and well meaning but personally aloof and unlikable Charles sits on the throne, that’s when the trouble starts.

    Much like Edward VII, who spent his entire life waiting for his mother to die, I see zero chance of Charles actually passing up the throne.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Actually, since Japanese years date according to the number of years the Emperor is on the throne, I’ve going to have to draw up another spreadsheet with the correspondences between Japanese years and Western years. Because trust me, anything official from the Japanese government gives dates using the Japanese calendar. (Which wrecks havoc when foreign databases try to make sense of Japanese documents, by the way. Put that together with the Japanese Patent Office tendency to reuse filing numbers: tracking down an individual Japanese patent is a pain in the butt.)

    I wonder what name the new Emperor will pick out for his reign? (The last two Emperor-eras were Showa and Heisei).

  7. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Japanese years date according to the number of years the Emperor is on the throne

    I used to collect Japanese coins. Which meant learning to date by which particular year of the Meiji or Showa reign the coin was labeled with.

    Fun fact: in WW2, the US made pennies out of steel one year (1943), to save copper for the war effort. The Japanese, on the other hand, were making coins out of porcelain by the end of the war, because any and all metal was for war materiel.