The abdication of Emperor Akihito was remarkable for being the first of a Japanese emperor in 200 years. But the reasons behind the abdication of Akihito are very different from Emperor Kokaku who stepped down in 1817 in favour of his son, Emperor Ninko. That was a political move in an age of instability and Kokaku continued to be the power behind the throne until his death in 1840. Akihito’s reasons for abdicating were more personal – his age and health making it difficult for the 85 year-old to carry out his duties. Akihito has been succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, with the official date of his succession being May 1, 2019. The official enthronement ceremony is due to be held in October.
Emperor Akihito was a discreet and dignified figure, ably supported by his consort Empress Michiko. Whilst Emperor Naruhito’s tenure as heir showed him to be a responsible and modest man, he will face challenges in the coming years. Chief amongst which will be keeping the Chrysanthemum Throne relevant to the younger generation.With only one child, Princess Aiko, and Japanese tradition being of male only succession, there is a dwindling list of heirs. The future of the dynasty currently lies with Naruhito’s brother, Prince Akishino, and his son, Prince Hisahito. Emperor Naruhito has pledged to be a symbol of unity but he may also need to be a moderniser, to have the laws of succession updated to include female scions.