Japan's Emperor Akihito will abdicate at the end of March 2019 and Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to ascend the throne in April, the Asahi newspaper reported on Friday. This will be the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in nearly two centuries.
The Asahi cited several sources and said that the government is in the final stage of formalizing the schedule.
In June, Japan's government passed a law allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate. However, the parliament needs to hammer out the details including the timing. Meanwhile, Japan's top government spokesman denied the Asahi report.
"We are not aware of the report and there is no such fact," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. "We will continue to discuss appropriately and will do our best to carry out the emperor's abdication smoothly," he added.
Last year in July, the 83-year-old emperor expressed his desire to retire due to his age and declining health that were making it hard for him to fulfill his official duties. This announcement had surprised the nation as Akihito, who has had heart surgery and was treated for prostate cancer, is loved and revered by many Japanese. Emperor Akihito's desire was interpreted as his wish to hand the crown to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
The Asahi reported that Akihito will be succeeded by Naruhito and a new era will start from April 1.
The abdication law, which is applicable only to Akihito and not to future emperors, included a resolution to debate letting female royals stay in the imperial family after marriage but did not touch on the controversial topic of allowing women to inherit.
According to Asahi, the expected 2019 abdication schedule would minimize the impact on people in changing to a new imperial reign from the current Heisei Era. The present era was started in 1989 after the death of Akihito's father Hirohito.
The reports said that the Imperial Household Agency also wanted the transition to take place in spring 2019 as several ritual events are already scheduled for the imperial family in autumn and winter.
The first Japanese emperor Akihito, who was never considered divine, has worked for decades at home and abroad to soothe the wounds of World War Two which was fought in his father Hirohito's name.
Empress Michiko said on Friday that she thought this year her travels with Emperor Ahikito around Japan might be their last and have become deeply emotional.
In a written remark on her 83rd birthday, the Empress added that she felt "an immeasurable sense of peace" that after abdication Akihito will be able to rest and spend quiet days after years of pursuing how the Emperor should be.