Japan's lower house of parliament approved a bill on Friday paving the way for Emperor Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne. If it happens, it would be the first such abdication in nearly two centuries.
Akihito, 83, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, said in rare public remarks last year he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfil his duties.
The law passed the more powerful lower house with just a handful of dissenting votes and now goes to the upper house. The intention is to get it passed before the current session of parliament ends in several weeks.
"I hope that the lower house today, and the upper house in days to come, will take this up in such a fashion that we can expect it to pass speedily," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said prior to the vote.
Handing over the reins
While no definite plan for an abdication has been confirmed, Japanese media say it will likely take place in late 2018, if it takes place at all.
Akihito has been on the throne for almost 30 years. He is the first Japanese emperor not considered divine, and has worked for decades to soothe the wounds at home and abroad of World War ll, fought in his father Hirohito's name.
First in line to succeed Akihito is Crown Prince Naruhito, 57.
Bill allows women to remain royals
In a move to deal with a shortage of male heirs and the shrinking number of Imperial Family members, the bill also included a resolution calling for debate on allowing women to stay in the Imperial Family even after their marriage. Current law mandates that they leave.
Allowing them to stay, and the controversial issue of changing the system to allow female inheritance, have been suggested as ways of dealing with the shrinking pool of royals. The issue was highlighted last month with the announcement that the emperor's oldest granddaughter will marry a commoner.