A law has just been passed in Japan that will allow the Emperor to abdicate within the next three years. Emperor Akihito, who is 83. has had significant health problems, Although modernised and having only a constitutional role since the Imperial Laws at the end of the Second World War, the Chrysanthemum Throne is still bound by many traditions. Akihito is the 125th of his dynasty to rule Japan, and has been Emperor since death of his father Showa (known in his lifetime as Hirohito) in 1989.
The law says the Emperor must abdicate in the next three years, and it is believed he will step down in December 2018. He will be the first Emperor to abdicate since Kokuku in 1817. The Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed.
The Imperial Family of Japan was shrunk in 1947 to include only the male line descendants of Taisho, Akihito's grandfather. Princesses may only marry members of the Imperial Family, and now there are no collateral branches, they must leave the Imperial Family, and lose their title when they marry. Akihito's five sisters and his daughter all did this. As women may not inherit the Throne, this means that there is only the Crown Prince, another son, and grandson of Akihito, and his brother left to succeed. Prince Hisahito, who is 11, is the only one under fifty, and there has been a call to chain the Succession Laws to allow a woman to succeed, or even to allow succession to pass through the female line, although this is controversial as the 2000 year old dynasty has, hitherto, only passed through the male line, although allowing occasional Empresses.
If young Hisahito has no children, or only daughters, he could, in fifty years' time, be the only member of the Imperial Family. Change is needed in this most traditional of monarchies.