Japan mulls abdication details in accordance with special law

Friday , April 21, 2017 - 9:01 AM

(c) 2017, The Japan News/Yomiuri.

If the Emperor’s abdication goes ahead, the government is considering having the ceremony at which the crown prince assumes the Imperial throne to be an event that does not constitute an act of the Emperor in matters of state (see below), according to sources.

This is to make clear that the abdication is not an act of the Emperor as defined under the Constitution, but rather an event conducted in accordance with a special law.

Article 4 of the current Imperial House Law states the Imperial heir shall immediately accede to the throne “upon the demise of the Emperor.” There is no stipulation for abdication formalities. After the special law is passed, procedures for this ceremony will be decided by referencing previous instances of abdications that occurred before the Meiji era (1868-1912).

Article 24 of the Imperial House Law states that when the throne is succeeded to, “the ceremony of accession shall be held.”

After the death of Emperor Showa, the ceremonies performed included the “ceremony of succession of the sacred sword, jewel and [other items],” in which, as proof of his status after ascension, the Emperor inherited the Imperial Regalia, as well as the Privy Seal and the State Seal he uses in his official duties.

“The rite of audience after enthronement,” during which the Emperor officially met with representatives of the people - the prime minister, chief justice of the Supreme Court, speaker of the House of Representatives and president of the House of Councillors - for the first time after ascension was also held.

These ceremonies were acts of the Emperor in matters of state.

These were all approved by the Cabinet after being deemed befitting the “ceremonial functions” stated in Article 7 of the Constitution, which stipulates matters of state to be performed by the Emperor.

However, government officials think that ceremonial functions performed by the Emperor after his abdication, based on the special measures law, could be interpreted as not corresponding to an Emperor’s act in matters of state.

In addition, with abdication being an exception to the Imperial House Law, and Article 4 of the Constitution prohibiting the Emperor from any “powers related to government,” consideration also will be needed to ensure it is not taken that the throne is being inherited based on the wishes of the Emperor.

It is therefore also possible that the ceremony will be considered to be a private act.

The Daijosai ceremony was the first event the then new Emperor attended at the start of the Heisei era. Because it was accepted this ceremony had a religious nature, it was not recognized as an act in matters of state, due to consideration for the separation of religion and government.

However, money from the state purse was used for the ceremony because it was accepted that it was a public event.

The Imperial Household Agency is researching the procedures for an abdication ceremony based on material including a manual on royal ceremonies from the Heian period (from the late eighth century to the late 12th century).

The government will consider whether the abdication ceremony should be conducted independently, jointly with an ascension ceremony, or performed in a manner befitting modern times.

Fifty-eight of the Emperor’s predecessors had abdicated until the former Imperial House Law issued in the Meiji era stipulated succession to the Imperial throne was allowed only when an emperor died.

In 645, Empress Kogyoku became the first when she abdicated under the Taika Reform, and Emperor Kokaku was the last in 1817.

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Acts of the Emperor in matters of state

Stipulated in Articles 4, 6 and 7 of the Constitution, as an organ of the state, the Emperor performs acts with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, such as appointing the prime minister and chief justice of the Supreme Court, convocation of the Diet, and ceremonial functions. Receiving New Year greetings from members of the Imperial family at a New Year ceremony, and the rites of an Imperial funeral also are considered acts of the Emperor in matters of state.

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