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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.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko married in 1959. Akihito ascended to the throne after his father passed away in January 1989.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko married in 1959. Akihito ascended to the throne after his father passed away in January 1989.

'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. 

ls/mg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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