Tokyo – The Japanese government on Friday approved a one-off bill allowing ageing Emperor Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne, in the first such abdication in two centuries.

The bill will now be sent to parliament for debate and likely receive swift final approval, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet signed off on the legislation.

Abdication must take place within three years of the bill becoming law.

Earlier this year reports suggested that 83-year-old Akihito could step down at the end of December 2018 and be replaced by Crown Prince Naruhito on January 1, 2019.

Reports of his desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July.

© AFP Behrouz MEHRI Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Reports of the emperor's desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July 

© AFP Behrouz MEHRI – Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Reports of the emperor’s desire to retire surprised Japan when they emerged last July