May 19 (UPI) -- Japan's Cabinet announced Friday it approved a bill allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate, opening a path for his son to succeed him.
The bill still requires parliamentary approval and only applies to the current situation, in which Akihito, 83, announced in May that he and Empress Michiko, 81, would curtail public appearances due to declining health.
The bill allows Akihito to sidestep a ruling requiring an emperor to hold the position for life. It makes no changes to the royal succession protocol, which favors male heirs, and makes no provision for Japan's lack of male heirs.
Japan's NHK broadcasting company, citing officials within the Imperial Household Agency, said Akihito will likely step down in December 2018 in favor of his son, Naruhito, 56, The Guardian reported Friday. It would be the first abdication in the Japanese monarchy in nearly 200 years.
Akihito's comments about retirement and the upcoming marriage of his granddaughter Mako to a commoner -- which will eliminate her royal status -- have prompted debate in Japan about the royal bloodline and the shortage of heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Only male heirs are eligible and only four remain in the royal household: Naruhito; his younger brother Akishimo; Hisahito, 10, the son of Akishimo; and Masahito, 81, the emperor's younger brother.
Akihito is Japan's 125th emperor, a position once regarded with godlike status that's been only ceremonial since the end of World War II.