(Vatican Radio) Lawmakers in Japan passed a one-off law on Friday allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate the throne, passing the country's symbolic reins over to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
He is set to follow Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, choosing retirement next year as old age approaches. The one-time ordinance was required since Japan has no legal provision for an emperor to retire.
Listen to Alastair Wanklyn's report:
Lawmakers applauded as they approved a one-off measure to allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. He's 83.
He said last year he'd like to retire, saying old age is already restricting his activities.
It will be Japan's first abdication in about 200 years. Crown Prince Naruhito will take the throne, when the abdication take place next year.
Japan's prime minister said the fact that a special legal measure was needed reflects this nation's long history.
Public attention may now shift to other possible reforms, including changing a long-held rule that only men can take the throne. Beyond the Crown Prince, there is only one other male heir -- a boy aged 10.
Female succession has not been widely debated in public, but some critics say the current situation is unsustainable.
Meanwhile, Emperor Akihito remains a popular figure. He draws large crowds at scheduled appearances.
The emperor is also a rallying point for nationalists. But the imperial family had its power taken away after World War II, rendering the emperor merely a symbol of the state.
Many observers credit Akihito with a reign marked by modesty and concern for social wellbeing. His admission of growing weakness struck a chord with Japan's aging society.