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Media Reports: Japan Looks at Steps to Allow Emperor's Abdication

FILE - Japan's Emperor Akihito, accompanied by Empress Michiko, leaves after delivering his remarks during a memorial service at Nippon Budokan martial arts hall in Tokyo.

Japan's government is planning legal steps that would allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate and his son to ascend the throne in two years, media reported on Wednesday, potentially setting the stage for the first abdication in two centuries.

Japanese Emperor Akihito, 83, hinted in August that he wanted to abdicate, saying he worried that age might make it difficult for him to carry out his duties fully. Abdication is not possible under current Japanese law.

However, media reports said the government was considering steps that would allow Akihito to abdicate and for 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the throne on Jan. 1, 2019. The abdication itself would take place on Dec. 31, 2018, or Jan. 1, some reports said.

A panel of experts has been discussing the issue since late last year, with recommendations expected later this year. The government could submit a special law to parliament on abdication as early as this spring, the reports said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday he was not aware of any such situation.

"The experts are prioritizing lightening the Emperor's burden in their discussions and things are still at a stage where no direction has emerged," he told a news conference.

Akihito has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer. He took the throne after the 1989 death of his father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War II, and has worked to heal the wounds of the conflict.