You May Step Down

June 13, 2017

In May, the Imperial Household of Japan announced that Princess Mako, the granddaughter of Emperor Akihito of Japan, will be giving up her status of “Princess” to marry her commoner (or someone who is not of royalty) boyfriend. But why does she have to give up her status for love? It’s the imperial law: a princess must leave the royal family once she is married to a commoner. As the Imperial Household continues to shrink in size (there are only 19 members left and only 5 of whom are male and can take on the Chrysanthemum Throne), some feel like this outdated imperial law should change, while others think it is a tradition and should remain the same.

While this law continues to be debated, another law is changing. Last Summer, 84-year old Emperor Akihito announced that he was going to retire from his duties as Emperor of Japan, but his actual retirement had to be approved by the Japanese Parliament. Why? Because Japanese imperial law requires that an emperor serve for life. Both of Japan’s Upper and Lower Parliaments have agreed to allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate his imperial duties.

By State Department photo by William Ng / Public domain East Asia and Pacific Media Hub [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If or when Emperor Akihito steps down, he will be the first Emperor of Japan in 200 years to abdicate his throne. To keep future emperors from abdicating their throne, this new law only applies to Emperor Akihito and only lasts for three years.

Emperor Akihito’s son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will take over the crown, but not until he officially steps down. There is no official date for when Emperor Akihito will be stepping down.

Interesting Fact: His abdication wasn’t the first time that Emperor Akihito stepped away from tradition: Emperor Akihito was the first in his family to marry a commoner. Michiko Shōda married then-Crown Prince Akihito and in 1990 when Crown Prince Akihito became Emperor Akihito, Michiko became Empress Michiko.