Japan prepares for emperor's abdication, says local media
The government has set out plans to create a legal avenue for the emperor to step down, local media reported. In the wake of World War II, Japan's constitution scaled back the emperor's role as a "symbol of the state."
Japan's government planned legal steps to allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate and have his eldest son ascend the throne in 2019, local media reported.
In August, the 83-year-old emperor hinted at the desire to step down, citing his advancing age and weakening health. While former emperors have abdicated, it has not occurred in 200 years.
"I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being as I have done until now," said Akihito.
In the wake of Akihito's speech, the government formed a six-member panel to examine the best possible legal route for an abdication, given there are no mechanisms that would allow the emperor to step down.
On Wednesday, the panel said it would release a report at the end of the month highlighting potential legislative routes.
"The advisory group plans to assess the pros and cons of the situation, including ways to alleviate the 83-year-old emperor's burden from duties," panel member Takshi Mikuriya said, according to Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency.
Local media reported January 1, 2019 as an appropriate date for the emperor to handover the reins of the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son due to the custom of "reign names" that take effect when an emperor ascends the throne.
'Symbol of the state'
While the emperor was once considered a semi-divine being, Japan's post-World War II constitution limited the role as a "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power."
Akihito ascended the throne in 1989, when his father Emperor Hirohito died. The contentious role of emperor had been scaled back after Japan waged war in the name of Hirohito, prompting him to renounce divinity in the aftermath of World War II.
However, Akihito has been credited with embracing the symbolic role of his position by seeking reconciliation domestically and internationally over the country's war legacy.
The origins of Japan's hereditary monarchy, believed to be the world's oldest, are said to date back some 2,600 years. In Japan's native Shinto religion, the emperor is also considered the highest authority.
Hideki Tojo was Japan's prime minister from 1941 to 1944 and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Imperial Army. He was accused of being responsible for the killing of 4 million Chinese as well as conducting biological experiments on prisoners of war. Following his country's surrender in 1945 he tried to kill himself with a pistol. However, he survived, confessed to the crimes and was hanged in 1948.
The "China expert" began his career in 1912 as a secret agent in Beijing. Doihara, who spoke mandarin and several Chinese dialects fluently, founded the "Manchurian Empire" together with China's last emperor, Puyi. It was a puppet regime under Japanese control. In 1940, Doihara backed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hanged eight years later.
Matsui was accused of being involved in the 1937 Nanjing massacre in which an estimated 300,000 people were killed within a week. Nowadays, historians believe that the decision for the carnage was taken by the imperial family. The family, however, was never charged. A tribunal convicted Matsui of being a "Class B" war criminal. He was executed in 1948.
In 1939, Kimura waged a brutal war against the armed forces of China's Communist Party in the eastern part of the country. He set up concentration camps in which thousands died. In 1944, he was sent to Burma where he became army commander. He used prisoners of war to build a 415-kilometer-long railway connecting Thailand to Burma. Some 13,000 allied soldiers died. He was hanged in 1948.
Hirota was Japan's prime minister until February 1937 and later became foreign minister. He was charged with sanctioning the Nanjing massacre. Hirota (seen here in the middle) was the only civilian politician to be hanged in 1948.
On September 18, 1931, Itagaki orchestrated a bomb attack on a railway in the northeastern region of Manchuria. Japan used this as a pretext to declare war on China. Itagaki later fought in North Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia until he surrendered in 1945. He was found guilty of escalating the war and was hanged in 1948.
Ever since the outbreak of the war, Muto fought in China and was later found guilty of taking part in several atrocities, including the Nanjing massacre. According to the judges, Mutto not only let prisoners of war starve but also "tortured and murdered" them.
Under his leadership, Japan left the League of Nations after some member states accused Japan of starting the war against China. Matsuoka was foreign minister between 1940 and 1941 and was one of the co-signers of the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In 1946, he died of tuberculosis before being sentenced.
Marshal Admiral Osami Nagano, a supporter of the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, ordered the attack on December 7, 1941. Twelve US warships either sunk or were badly damaged and more than 2,400 American soldiers were killed. Nagano died of pneumonia in 1946 before he could be tried in the Tokyo war crimes trials.
He was the head of Japanese propaganda. Shiratori was Japan's ambassador to Italy and pushed for an alliance between his country, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As an advisor to the foreign minister, he disseminated his fascist ideals both "on and off the stage." Toshio was sentenced to life in prison where he died in 1949.
Hiranuma was Japan's prime minister from January to August 1939. During this time Japan strengthened its ties with Germany and Italy. Kiichiro was later considered to be one of Emperor Hirohito's closest advisors. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 1952. He died that same year.
Koiso was Japan's prime minister between July 1944 and April 1945, and served in China and North Korea. He was sentenced to life in prison although the tribunal was of the view he didn't take direct part in the atrocities committed by the military. The judges, however, ruled that he had been in a position to put a stop to them. Koiso died of cancer in 1950 while serving his jail sentence.
From 1939 to 1945, Umezu was in command of the 700,000-strong Guandong Army based in northeastern China. Although he opposed a Japanese surrender shortly before the end of the war, Umezu (seen here in uniform in the first row) was ordered by the emperor to sign the document of unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945. He was sentenced to life in prison and died in jail in 1949.
Togo was an expert on Germany. He spoke German, studied German philology, married a German and was appointed Japan's ambassador to Germany in 1937. He was appointed foreign minister in 1941 and again in 1945, when he advised the Japanese government to surrender. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and died in 1950 while in jail.