For the first time in 200 years, a Japanese monarch will step down from power, as the Japanese government has passed a bill that enables Emperor Akihito to pass the throne on to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

Emperor Akihito, who is 83, made waves last year when he announced that he was considering abdication, citing his age and health concerns – the monarch had a heart bypass operation four years ago and was treated for prostate cancer in 2003.

In order to ensure the successful passage of the bill through Parliament, the Abe administration had to include a clause that called for a discussion about different ways to improve the lives of princesses, who leave the Imperial Family and lose their titles when they marry, and who cannot ascend to the throne. At a time when the ranks of the Imperial Family are on the wane – there are currently only 19 members – this is a subject of rising concern.

Surveys on the subject show that there is popular support for an overhaul of the household law that would allow for empresses. Over the course of Japanese history, there have been eight empresses who served when a male heir could not be found.

In remarks broadcast after the vote, which was televised live on NHK, Prime Minister Abe said, “Abdication will take place for the first time in 200 years, reminding me once again of how important an issue this is for the foundation of our nation, its long history, and its future.”

Emperor Akihito is expected to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne some time in 2018 – perhaps at the end of the year, which would mark 30 years as emperor. The bill only applies to Akihito and will only be in effect for three years, important details that ensure that future emperors won’t be forced to abdicate due to political pressure.

Japan has the oldest continuous monarchy in the world, and goes back to the year 660. However, according to Japanese myth, the line goes back 2,700 years, and Emperor Akihito is the 125th member of this royal family.