Since Emperor Akihito signaled his wish to abdicate a year ago, an increasing number of officials at the Imperial Household Agency have come to believe it best for him to step down in spring 2019.
The idea differs with a plan calling for the abdication to take place at the end of 2018 when the calendar changes, something the government is believed to be considering.
Agency officials are concerned that the New Year period is crowded with ceremonies and other events performed by the Imperial family.
In a rare broadcast, made on Aug. 8, 2016, the Emperor expressed his willingness to hand the Chrysanthemum Throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, his eldest son, citing his advancing age and declining physical strength.
In response to the message, the Diet enacted government-sponsored special legislation in June to allow the Emperor, 83, to abdicate, paving the way for the first succession from a living emperor in about 200 years.
Under the current Imperial House Law, established in 1947 to govern the status of the Emperor and other Imperial family affairs, succession is limited to when the incumbent dies.
Discussions now center on whether to opt for the Emperor handing over the throne in late December 2018, with the Japanese era name changing from the current Heisei on New Year’s Day of 2019, or to have the Imperial succession take place at the end of March 2019 and the new era beginning at the start of fiscal 2019 on April 1. The final decision will be made in September.
Many rituals will be performed at the time of the abdication and the new emperor’s accession to the throne. These will include one ritual dedicated to handing over the icons of Imperial succession, including a special sword, and another for the new emperor’s first meeting with heads of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government.
Similar rituals were performed when the era changed from Showa to Heisei in January 1989 following the death of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa.
The abdication ceremony will be the first since Emperor Kokaku relinquished his title in 1817.
An event to celebrate the Emperor’s 85th birthday will be held on Dec. 23, 2018, and a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the demise of Emperor Taisho, the grandfather of the Emperor, will take place two days later.
On the last day of 2018, the Emperor will undertake a purification ceremony.
On New Year’s Day of 2019, the Emperor will perform an early morning ceremony to honor Japan’s deities and Ise Jingu, an important Shinto shrine in Ise, Mie Prefecture. He will then take part in New Year’s celebrations that begins before noon.
A visit by the general public to the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo for New Year’s greetings will be held on Jan. 2 and other New Year’s-related events will continue on consecutive days through mid-January.
In addition, on Jan. 7, 2019, the 30th anniversary of Emperor Hirohito’s death, a related event will be held at the former emperor’s grave in western Tokyo.
In spring 2019, some festivals will be held as in other years but there are fewer events than in the year-end and New Year’s period.
“Spring, the school graduation period, would be more appropriate a time to look back on the Heisei era and to celebrate the start of the new era than the busy time around the turn of the year,” an official close to the Imperial Household Agency said.