Japan's emperor is abdicating, with few heirs left

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on April 29, 2019 - Duration: 02:23s

Japan's emperor is abdicating, with few heirs left

Japanese Emperor Akihito will step down on Tuesday in an unusual move that’s stunned the Japanese public - typically emperors reign until death.

It will mean a lengthy holiday - 10 days straight with markets closed.

And it may set a precedent, as Japan faces a dwindling number of heirs.

Grace Lee reports.

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Japan's emperor is abdicating, with few heirs left

For the first time in two centuries, a Japanese monarch is stepping down.

On Tuesday, April 30th, Emperor Akihito will abdicate.

This unprecedented move for modern Japan has left the public stunned.

But at 85 years-old Akihito has had heart surgery, and been treated for prostate cancer.

Ultimately, he says he's afraid he can't carry out his duties as a monarch and many Japanese sympathize with him.

But not everyone.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative base had objected to the idea of abdication, mainly because the royals don't have many male heirs.

They're worried the next step might lead to women on the throne, though the current law forbids it.

With the enthronement of Akihito's son, Crown Prince Naruhito, there are only 3 possible successors left and his own daughter isn't one of them.

After Princess Aiko was born in 2001, there was discussion of possibly changing the rules to let her reign because there were no male heirs in the younger generation.

But still, conservatives resisted.

Then, Naruhito's brother - Akishino - had a son, and lawmakers sighed with relief - sweeping the issue under the rug.

In the end Akihito was allowed to step down only after a special law was passed.

And, with ascension day just around the corner, another unprecedented step: a 10 day holiday has been given to the public to celebrate Japan's new emperor.

That means most of Japan has shut down - banks, schools, businesses and also the stock market.

That's never happened for that long- and its a unique headache for traders.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS CORRESPONDENT HIDEYUKI SANO SAYING: "Well they don't want to get caught with lots of stocks or the dollar they don't they cant trade during this holiday, and people say one reason japanese share prices have under performed so far this year is precisely because investors do not want to have japanese stocks when they know they can't trade for more than a week." After the abdication, Akihito will be known as "joko" or emperor emeritus.

His wife, Michiko will be "jokogo." They will leave the Imperial Palace and soon move into the Togu Palace, where they lived down the road before he was emperor.

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