Japan's Emperor Akihito likely to abdicate at end-March 2019: Asahi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Emperor Akihito is likely to abdicate at the end of March 2019 and Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to ascend the throne in April, the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in nearly two centuries, the Asahi newspaper reported on Friday.

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The government is in the final stage of formalizing the schedule, said the Asahi, citing several sources.

In June, Japan’s parliament passed a law allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate and the government needs to hammer out the details including the timing.

Japan’s top government spokesman denied the Asahi report.

“We are not aware of the report and there is not 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 said.

Akihito, 83, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in rare public remarks last year he feared age might make it hard for him to continue to fulfill his duties.

He will be succeeded by Naruhito, 57, and a new era will start from April 1, the Asahi reported.

The abdication law, which applies 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.

Asahi said the expected 2019 abdication schedule would minimize the impact on people in changing to a new imperial reign from the current Heisei Era, which started in 1989 after the death of Akihito’s father Hirohito, according to the Asahi.

The Imperial Household Agency also wanted the transition to take place in spring 2019 as many ritual events are scheduled for the imperial family in autumn and winter, the report said.

Akihito, the first Japanese emperor 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.

In a written remarks of her 83rd birthday on Friday, Empress Michiko said that she thought this year her travels with Emperor Ahikito around Japan might be their last and have become deeply emotional.

The Empress also said she felt “an immeasurable sense of peace” that Akihito will be able to rest and spend quiet days after years of pursuing how the Emperor should be.

Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Michael Perry