Japan’s parliament has approved a law permitting Emperor Akihito (left) to abdicate the throne as he requested. Members of the deliberately small royal family, including Empress Michiko (second from left), attend a spring garden party at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

According to legend, Japan’s monarchy originated 2,700 years ago with the goddess Amaterasu, a female deity said to be the nation’s first emperor.

The current emperor, Akihito, is mortal. Expressing his wishes in oblique language last August, Akihito, 83, asked permission to abdicate, citing his advanced age and poor health.

On Friday, Japan’s upper house of parliament approved a bill allowing Akihito to leave the Chrysanthemum Throne. Because the lower house approved the bill last week, it now becomes law.

It applies only to Akihito and only for three years.

The Japanese monarchy is the world’s oldest. Akihito’s father, Hirohito — Japan’s wartime emperor — was the last to be considered divine. Hirohito died in 1989.

The New York Times reports:

“Emperor Akihito became enormously popular as he abandoned the aloof style of his father and sought to spend more time among the people. The Japanese revere him for his support of the pacifism enshrined in the nation’s postwar Constitution, and his role as the nation’s consoler in chief during natural disasters. Together with his wife, the Empress Michiko, he has traveled extensively, acting as an envoy of reconciliation with surrounding Asian countries that suffered during Japan’s wartime aggression.”

Peculiarities in Japanese custom and law have kept the royal family small. Succession runs through male members, and only men may serve as emperor.

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SOURCE: NPR, Mark Katkov

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