Japan's Emperor Akihito is abdicating, how will the country’s next era be decided?

Emperor Akihito will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years

Sabrina Barr
Friday 29 March 2019 14:31
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The reign of Japan’s Emperor Akihito

Later this year, Emperor Akihito of Japan is due to abdicate his role as the head of the imperial family.

Emperor Akihito will become the first Japanese monarch to step down from his position in two centuries.

So when is Emperor Akihito abdicating the throne, who will replace him and how will Japan's next era be decided?

Here's everything you need to know:

When did Emperor Akihito announce his abdication?

Emperor Akihito succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989 following the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

In December 2017, it was announced that the emperor would step down from his role on 30 April 2019.

The last Japanese emperor to abdicate prior to Akihito was Kokaku in 1817.

Prior to the announcement of his abdication, some suspected that Akihito had starting thinking of stepping down on account of his declining health.

These suspicions were made more apparent in August 2016, following a video address delivered by the emperor.

"When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now," the 85-year-old said at the time.

The following year, it was formally announced that Akihito had decided to abdicate.

How has Emperor Akihito spent his 30-year rule?

Emperor Akihito's period of rule since 1989 has been known as the Heisei era.

The beginning of the Heisei era, which can be translated to mean "achieving peace", marked the end of the Showa era, which can be translated to mean "enlightened harmony".

Before becoming emperor at the age of 56, Akihito married the now Empress consort Michiko.

Their union broke with tradition, as Michiko became the first commoner to marry into the imperial family in centuries.

Throughout Emperor Akihito's rule, the octogenarian has spent a significant amount of time addressing Japan's legacy from the Second World War, which was fought during his father's rule.

In 2005, Emperor Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to visit the site of a Second World War battle that had been fought abroad.

He and Empress consort Michiko visited the island of Saipan in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, on which the Battle of Saipan was fought in 1944.

Who will succeed the emperor?

Emperor Akihito will be succeeded by his eldest son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

Akihito and Michiko have two other children - a second son, Fumihito, Prince Akishino, and a daughter, Sayako Kuroda.

Prince Akishino's son, 11-year-old Prince Hisahito, will become second-in-line to the throne.

Crown Prince Naruhito's 16-year-old daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi, will not be included in the line of succession, as only male members of the Japanese royal family can ascend to the throne.

How will the name of Japan's next era be decided?

While Japan uses the western calendar, the country also denotes the year by using the name of the era of the current ruling emperor.

Therefore, the first year of the Heisei era, 1989, would have also been known as "Heisei 1".

According to the National Institutes for the Humanities, it's likely that the titles of Japanese eras are chosen by a team of specialists, who each propose new names.

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"We do know that starting around the 10th century, new era names were decided by knowledgeable persons from several specific families that served the emperor’s court, who were known as monjō hakase," explains Masaharu Mizukami, professor in the Faculty of Letters at Chuo University, Japan.

"When deciding a new era name, each monjō hakase would submit a text called nengō kanmon, containing a candidate name and a passage of the Chinese classic on which the name was based."

The name of the new era will be announced on Monday 1 April, a month before the Crown Prince Naruhito assumes the throne on Wednesday 1 May.

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