Japanese imperial transition, 2019

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Emperor Akihito of Japan is set to abdicate on 30 April 2019, which will make him the first Japanese Emperor to do so in over two centuries. This marks the end of the Heisei period, and will precipitate numerous festivities leading up to the accession of his successor, Crown Prince Naruhito.[1] The enthronement ceremony will likely happen on 22 October of that year.[2] Akihito's younger son, the Prince Fumihito is expected to become his brother's heir presumptive.

The Emperor and the Constitution[edit]

Article 4[edit]

Article 4 of the Constitution states, "The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government."

The question of when and how the will of the Emperor on the law and constitution can and should be expressed is a major one, as it can be considered opposition to the will of the people and unconstitutional.[3]


In 2010, Emperor Akihito informed his advisory council that he would eventually like to retire from his demanding job.[3] However, senior members of the Imperial Household Agency did nothing.

On 13 July 2016, national broadcaster NHK reported that the Emperor wished to abdicate in favor of his elder son Crown Prince Naruhito within a few years.

Senior officials within the Imperial Household Agency denied that there was any official plan for the monarch to abdicate. A potential abdication by the Emperor would require an amendment to the Imperial Household Law, which has no provisions for such a move.[4][5]

Speech to the nation[edit]

On 8 August 2016, the Emperor gave a rare televised address, where he emphasized his advanced age and declining health;[6] this address was interpreted as an implication of his intention to abdicate.[7][8]


With the intention of the abdication now known, the Cabinet Office appointed Yasuhiko Nishimura as the Imperial Household Agency's Vice Grand Steward.

In October 2016, the Cabinet Office appointed a panel of experts to debate the Emperor's abdication, which recommended that the law should be a one-off measure for Akihito alone.

In January 2017, the Lower House Budget committee began informally debating the constitutional nature of the abdication.[3]

On 19 May 2017, the bill that would allow Akihito to abdicate was issued by the Japanese government's cabinet. On 8 June 2017, the National Diet passed a one-off bill allowing Akihito to abdicate, and for the government to begin arranging the process of handing over the position to Crown Prince Naruhito.[9] The abdication has been set to occur on 30 April 2019.[10]

He will receive the title of Jōkō (上皇), an abbreviation of Daijō Tennō (太上天皇, Retired Emperor) upon abdicating, and his wife, the Empress, will become Jōkōgo (上皇后).[11]

Imperial Household Council[edit]

On 1 December 2017, the Imperial Household Council, which had not met in 24 years, did so in order to schedule the ceremonials involved in the first such transfer of power in two centuries.[12][13]

The Imperial Household Council has 10 members including the Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Speakers/Presidents of the House of Councillors and House of Representatives of the National Diet, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, and two Imperial Family members. Of the latter, Prince Akishino, the Emperor's younger son, has been asked to stand down, as he is an "interested party" in the matter. He was replaced by Prince Hitachi, the Emperor's 82-year-old younger brother, the other one is Hitachi's wife Princess Hanako.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the date was chosen to permit the old Emperor to be able to preside over a 30th anniversary Jubilee and to coincide with the Golden Week annual holiday period, turning the changeover from a period of mourning and makeshift ceremonial into a joyous, well-planned, festival.[14]

Finally, on December 8, 2017, the government created a special committee to oversee the events. According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga: "It will deal with the matter properly, taking into consideration the possible impact on the people's lives.”[15]

Preparations for the imperial transition 2017–19[edit]

The committee met for the first time in January of 2018, and the following month announced that a plan called a "basic policy statement," was released on April 3.[16] Official farewell celebrations will begin with a 30th Jubilee ceremony on February 12, 2019, a delay which would avoid any implication of a celebration of the death of Emperor Shōwa on January 7th.[17]

Golden Week, 2019[edit]

The government has suggested that the Golden week holidays be consolidated into a special ten day block lasting from April 27 to May 6. Had the transition not been scheduled in advance, April 29 and May 3-6 are already national holidays in 2019, following the weekend of April 27–28. The abdication and enthronement would both be National holidays, and public law states that a regular work day sandwiched between two national holidays would become "Public" holidays.[18]


Since the Meiji restoration in 1867, a new Japanese Era starts the day after the old Emperor dies. However, in Emperor Akihito's case, manufacturers of calendars, forms and other paper products will need to know the new Era's name in advance to produce their wares in a timely manner.[19][20][8]

While the Era names for the Shōwa and Heisei eras were kept state secrets until the deaths of the old emperors, this will not be possible as the abdication is unprecedented since the first constitution was adopted. In order to prevent divisive debate on the subject, delaying the announcement as late as is practically possible, either the old emperor's birthday or his Jubilee celebrations have been suggested.[21]

Until the Era name becomes known, computers and software manufacturers will need to test their systems before the transition in order to ensure that the new era will be handled correctly by their software. Some systems provide test mechanisms to simulate a new era ahead of time.[22]

Enthronement Ceremony[edit]

The Enthronement Ceremony is scheduled to take place on 22 October 2019, marking the end of the transition period. It is to be an extra holiday.[23]



Emperor Akihito informs his advisory council that he would like to eventually retire and to help him arrange it.


  • July: Emperor Akihito leaks to the press his wishes to retire.
  • July 13: NHK reports his wishes to the public.
  • August 8: The Emperor makes address to the public on television and radio implying the above wish.
  • September: Prime Minister Shinzō Abe appoints a committee to investigate the legal ramifications of a possible abdication.


  • January 12: Public debate on abdication in the Lower House Budget committee.
  • May 11: A report of a joint committee of the Diet recommends a one-off bill to facilitate the first imperial abdication in two centuries.
  • May 19: The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe introduces the abdication bill.
  • June 8: The abdication bill passes the lower house of the Diet
  • June 9: The abdication bill passes the upper house of the Diet
  • November: The Cabinet suggests that April 30, 2019 will be a good date
  • December 1: The Imperial Household Council, which has not met in a quarter century, does so and approves the date suggested.
  • December 7: The Cabinet approves the date, authorizing the creation of an "imperial transition committee" to oversee the ceremonials involved, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga as Chairman.[24]


  • January: The committee meets for the first time.
  • February 20: Preliminary paper on official ceremonials issued stating that the abdication will be a state occasion.[24]
  • April 3: White Paper on official ceremonials is issued by council.[16]
  • December 23: The final celebration of the Emperor Akihito's birthday as Emperor.


  • January 8: 30th Anniversary Jubilee begins. Start of official farewell celebrations for the Emperor.
  • February 12: Jubilee celebrations at the National theater.[17]
  • February 24: Naruhito's era name to be announced[25].
  • April: Local elections in Japan.
  • April 27: Extra Holiday: Start of Golden Week holiday season.[26]
  • April 28: Extra Holiday
  • April 29: Shōwa Day
  • April 30: Abdication day as Akihito renounces the throne and becomes the first Jōkō in 179 years. Accession of Emperor Naruhito. Heisei Period comes to an end. The government will hold a Taiirei Seiden no Gi ceremony on abdication day, according to the basic policy. The ceremony will be held as an act of the Emperor as a matter of state performed under the Constitution.

New Era

  • May 1: Beginning of a new Era; The enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, will feature five ceremonies, all of which will be held as state acts. The first of them, Kenji to Shokei no Gi, a ceremony in which he inherits the Imperial Regalia, and the Privy Seal and State Seal of Japan. This will be followed immediately by the Sokuigo Choken no Gi ceremony, in which the Emperor meets for the first time with the heads of the administrative, judicial and legislative branches.
  • May 2: Extra Holiday
  • May 3: Constitution Memorial Day
  • May 4: Greenery Day
  • May 5: Children's Day
  • May 6: Extra Holiday: End of Golden Week Celebrations.
  • September 20 - November 2: 2019 Rugby World Cup takes place, coinciding with the core enthronement ceremony
  • October 22: Emperor Naruhito undergoes Sokuirei Seiden no Gi, the core enthronement ceremony, followed by Shukuga Onretsu no Gi, a parade to introduce the new Emperor to the public, will follow on the same day.[26]
  • Nov. 14-15: "Daijosai", or Great Thanksgiving Festival[27]


  • February 23: The first celebration of Naruhito's birthday as Emperor.
  • Spring: Prince Akishino will be promoted to koshi (a rank, equivalent to crown prince)
  • July 24 – August 9: 2020 Summer Olympics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jiji, Kyodo, "Emperor Akihito's abdication may push back timing of constitutional reform" Japan Times, January 5, 2017.
  2. ^ "Enthronement ceremony for Japan's next emperor seen in fall 2019- Nikkei Asian Review". Asia.nikkei.com. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  3. ^ a b c "Do Not Let the Emperor's Abdication Be an Occasion for Cynical Political Gain - JAPAN Forward". Japan-forward.com. 11 May 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  4. ^ "天皇陛下 「生前退位」の意向示される ("His Majesty The Emperor Indicates His Intention to 'Abdicate'")" (in Japanese). NHK. 13 July 2016. Archived from the original on 13 July 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  5. ^ "Japanese Emperor Akihito 'wishes to abdicate'". BBC News. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  6. ^ "Message from His Majesty The Emperor". The Imperial Household Agency. 8 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "Japan's Emperor Akihito hints at wish to abdicate". BBC News. 8 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "The Emperor's Abdication: Sixteen Months of Muted Conflict - JAPAN Forward". Japan-forward.com. 9 December 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  9. ^ "Japan passes landmark bill for Emperor Akihito to abdicate". BBC News. 8 June 2017. 
  10. ^ Osaki, Tomohiro (1 December 2017). "Japan sets date for Emperor Akihito's abdication as April 30, 2019". Japantimes.co.jp. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "April 30 most likely date for Emperor Akihito's abdication: government sources". The Japan Times. 22 November 2017. 
  13. ^ "Gov't to hold meeting Dec 1 to discuss emperor's abdication date". Japan Today. Retrieved 26 November 2017. 
  14. ^ "Emperor Akihito to abdicate on April 30, 2019". Japantoday.com. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  15. ^ "Special panel set to formally approve Emperor Akihito's abdication date as April 30, 2019". Japantimes.co.jp. 5 December 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  16. ^ a b NEWS, KYODO. "Basic plan for Japan's imperial succession rites in 2019 approved by gov't". 
  17. ^ a b "Government pencils in February 2019 ceremony to mark Emperor's 30 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne". 15 February 2018 – via Japan Times Online. 
  18. ^ "Plan ahead: Japan to consider 10 consecutive days off around Crown Prince's succession". Japantimes.co.jp. 6 December 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  19. ^ "Big headache for calendar publishers if new emperor's era name announcement delayed". Japantimes.co.jp. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018 – via Japan Times Online. 
  20. ^ "Japan's Heisei Emperor Departs, Taking his Calendar - Asia Sentinel". Asiasentinel.com. 7 December 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  21. ^ "Japan may delay release of new era name until year-end or later". 17 February 2018 – via Japan Times Online. 
  22. ^ "The Japanese Calendar's Y2K Moment". 
  23. ^ "Japan May Make New Emperor's Proclamation Date Nonworking Day (News)". 13 February 2018. 
  24. ^ a b "Japanese emperor's abdication ceremony to be state occasion". asia.nikkei.com/. 20 February 2018. 
  25. ^ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5984297/The-Emperor-bug-send-Japanese-computers-haywire-year.html
  26. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  27. ^ "Japan sticks with tradition and excludes female imperial family members from Crown Prince Naruhito's enthronement". South China Morning Post. Associated Press. March 30, 2018. Yasuhiko Nishimura, vice grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, said it will hold the Daijosai, or Grand Thanksgiving rite, on November 14 and 15, 2019 – the most important ceremony after enthronement during which the new emperor will eat rice harvested that year to appreciate the country’s bounty of grain.