Emperor Akihito is scheduled to abdicate what is typically a job for life on April 30, 2019, the Kyodo News agency reported, citing unnamed sources. Abe announced the date after a special panel he chaired on Friday.
Emperor Akihito expressed his wish to abdicate from the Chrysanthemum throne in 2016 and the upper house of parliament passed a law allowing him to do so in June this year.
Akihito, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said last year he feared age might make it hard to fulfil his duties. He will be succeeded by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
A law adopted in June allows Akihito to step down. But it also left the details to be worked out later. Emperor Kokaku, who gave up the throne in 1817, was the last Japanese emperor to abdicate.
The new law also allowed for the possibility of allowing females to ascend the throne.
Akihito’s retirement and the engagement of his granddaughter, princess Mako – who leaves the imperial family after she marries – reopened debate about the shortage of male heirs and a possible succession crisis.
According to legend, the Chrysanthemum Throne is the oldest continuing monarchy in the world, founded in 660 BC by Emperor Jimmu.
Emperor Akihito, who has reigned since 1989, is the 125th direct descendant of Jimmu.
The emperor acts as a high priest in the ancestral religion Shinto, although his claim to divine origin was formally renounced after Japan's defeat in World War II.
Under the current constitution, the emperor is a "symbol of the state and the unity of its people" and has no real political power as a constitutional monarch.
After World War II, as part of Japan’s surrender, Emperor Hirohito renounced what he called the "the false conception that the emperor is divine," although Japan is the only modern nation that still refers to the head of its royal family as emperor.
jbh/rc (dpa, Reuters)