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But in the course of Japan's imperial household tradition reaching back to ancient times, instances in which of abdication in favor of a successor are by no means rare.
The present system of not recognizing abdication and allowing succession to the throne only upon an emperor's death came into being after Japan became a modern Western-style state.
Nevertheless, no provision for abdication was incorporated into the present Imperial Household Law.
"For certain duties, which we thought ended with death, we now see a modern logic: abdication is possible," Belgian political analyst Pascal Delwit told private television station RTL-TVI.
The abdication of queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in April was not a complete surprise, as both her mother and grandmother before her voluntarily gave up their crowns.