Last summer, the 83-year-old Emperor voiced concerns that his advanced age may begin to affect his ability to serve
, following an announcement last May that he and Empress Michiko, 81, would reduce their public appearances.
Akihito said that while he felt he was in good health he was worried about the increasing burden of the role.
"However, when I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now," he said.
At the time it was reported that the monarch felt that as his ability to perform his official duties waned, the next generation -- namely his eldest son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito -- should take them on, NHK reported, citing sources in the Imperial Household Agency.
Imperial law requires an Emperor to serve for life, but Akihito's announcement put plans into motion for the Japanese parliament to allow the Emperor to step aside should he choose to. The draft law is particularly worded to allow Akihito to abdicate and would not apply to future monarchs.
The cabinet's draft bill for the Emperor's abdication will now be submitted for both the upper and lower houses of parliament to debate before becoming law.
Lawmakers are aiming to pass the legislation before the end of the current session of Japan's parliament, on June 18.
While other monarchs -- including Dutch Queen Beatrix -- have abdicated, Japan's postwar constitution does not currently allow an aging emperor to step down. If he becomes incapacitated, his successor can act as regent.
Debate in the past has also focused on the possibility of allowing female succession -- most recently in 2004 when there was no male successor to follow Naruhito.
But the birth of the emperor's grandson Hisahito in 2006 paused the legal discussion. With the departure of Akihito's daughter Mako, who is set to marry a commoner and relinquish her
royal status, the debate about how to secure the imperial bloodline may resurface.
Akihito is Japan's 125th Emperor and records claim the imperial line has been unbroken for 14 centuries. Once revered as a living God, the Japanese emperor became a ceremonial figure in Japan's constitutional monarchy after World War II.
Should the long-serving Akihito step down it would mark the first abdication of the nation's monarch in about 200 years.