Japanese Emperor Akihito to Abdicate on New Year's Day, 2019: Reports

Emperor Akhito (R) and Crown Prince Naruhito
Japanese Emperor Akihito (R) and Crown Prince Naruhito wave to well-wishers during a public appearance for New Year celebrations at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, January 2. Emperor Akihito is reportedly planning to abdicate. Kim Kyung-Hoon/REUTERS

Japanese Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate and allow his oldest son to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne at the start of 2019.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is preparing legal changes for the country’s first abdication in two centuries, which will see Crown Prince Naruhito take over from his father, Reuters quoted Japanese media as saying Wednesday.

Akihito, who turned 83 last month and has been on the throne since the death of his father Hirohito in 1989, hinted in a televised address last August that he wished to retire. The emperor, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer, said his age would make it difficult to exercise his duties.

Existing law makes no provision for abdication but opinion polls show support for the emperor amid his ailing health. The legal changes would allow Akihito to abdicate on December 31, 2018 with 56-year-old Naruhito ascending the throne on January 1, 2019.

This timing would seek to minimize confusion, as it is Japanese custom to establish a new historical era as soon as a new emperor takes the throne.

The “reign name” system is used in state documents, computer systems and calendars, all of which need changing upon succession.

Shares in printing companies surged on the Tokyo markets Wednesday as investors anticipated the vast printing needs of the new reign name, Reuters reported.

The last emperor to abdicate was Kokaku, who abdicated in favor of his son Ninko in 1817.