Japan’s Emperor Akihito to abdicate in April 2019

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Japan's Emperor Akihito to abdicate in April 2019

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Emperor Akihito, seen here with Empress Michiko, has said his age has made it difficult to fulfil duties

Japan’s ageing Emperor Akihito will step down in April 2019, marking the end of an imperial era for Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the abdication date shortly after a government and royal panel met to discuss the timing.

The 83-year-old emperor had said last year that his age and health made it difficult to fulfil duties.

The timing of his abdication, the first in more than two centuries, has been the subject of debate in Japan.

The Imperial Household Council, made up of Mr Abe, lawmakers, and members of Japan’s royal family, convened on Friday to set the date of the abdication.

Mr Abe later met reporters briefly to announce that they had decided the emperor would step down on 30 April 2019.

His abdication will mark the end of the Heisei era, and he would be immediately succeeded by his son Crown Prince Naruhito on 1 May, which would start a new imperial era.

Earlier reports said the emperor could abdicate on 31 December so that his son would start his era on 1 January, thus synchronising the imperial calendar – which is still used for formal announcements – with the Gregorian calendar that is widely used in Japan.

But that proposal was reportedly rejected by the royal household as ceremonies to mark the succession would then clash with year-end and new year royal events, reported Kyodo news agency citing government sources.

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AFP/Getty Images

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The council met at the Imperial Household Agency on Friday

The emperor, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, has been on the throne in Japan since the death of his father, Hirohito, in 1989.

In a rare address to the nation last year, Akihito said he was “worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties”.

His statement was widely interpreted as a wish for abdication, which at the time was not provided for under the law.

Public sympathy grew for the emperor, and the Japanese government moved to enact a bill this year to allow him to step down.

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