Photo/IllutrationThe Imperial Household Council meeting held on Dec. 1, 2017, was chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

When historians pore over a crucial meeting that decided the date for Emperor Akihito's abdication, they no doubt will be perplexed to discover that detailed minutes of those discussions do not exist.

That was the Imperial Household Agency's response to an information disclosure request submitted by The Asahi Shimbun for minutes of the Dec. 1, 2017, meeting of the Imperial Household Council that decided the emperor should abdicate on April 30, 2019.

While the agency has already released a summary of what transpired during the discussions, it said detailed records were not kept.

The Asahi Shimbun also submitted a request for the minutes of the two other Imperial Household Council meetings held since 1989, when Akihito, now 84, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, heralding the start of the Heisei Era.

Interestingly, detailed minutes did exist for the meetings held in 1989 and 1993 to discuss the marriages of Prince Fumihito and Crown Prince Naruhito, respectively.

The Public Records and Archives Management Law obliges administrative organs to preserve original documents to allow historians in the future to assess decisions made by the administrative branch.

The Imperial Household Agency's decision not to keep detailed minutes of the Dec. 1, 2017, meeting would appear to be a particularly glaring omission in light of the fact that the Imperial Household Council convened for the first time in Japan's history as a constitutional democracy to decide the date for the abdication of an emperor.

The last emperor to abdicate was Kokaku in 1817.

The council meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and attended by representatives of the imperial household as well as the three branches of government.

The summary released by the agency states that Abe presented a proposal to set the abdication date for April 30, 2019, and made clear that the final decision reflected his suggestion.

At a news conference held at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, in response to a request for details about the meeting, stated, "It concerns the date on which the entire population should celebrate together so it is not necessarily desirable to clarify who said what about the issue."

However, The Asahi Shimbun later learned that one participant had expressed reservations about the abdication date.

That was Hirotaka Akamatsu, vice speaker of the Lower House. As is common practice, he shunned any party affiliation when he took the post to ensure neutrality, although he was once a member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

During an initial round of discussions when council participants expressed their views, Akamatsu stood out by saying the abdication date should be Dec. 31, 2018. He explained that the emperor clearly wanted to abdicate earlier rather than later and had already expressed his hope that the start of a new imperial era would not inconvenience the public in their daily lives.

The summary released by the Imperial Household Agency does not include the comments expressed by Akamatsu, fueling speculation that it did not want to disclose that any opposing views had been raised at the Imperial Household Council meeting.

Hajime Sebata, an associate professor of modern Japanese history at Nagano Prefectural College who frequently refers to public documents and is well-versed in how they are managed, said that officials were clearly concerned about prolonged debate on the issue if opposing views were aired.

"Nevertheless, it is only natural that detailed minutes are compiled in such historical settings," Sebata said. "The summary is nothing less than a 'loophole' that allows an administrative agency to conceal information it doesn't want revealed."

He added that the frequent use of summaries in place of detailed minutes reflects a general sentiment that discussions about the imperial household are taboo.

The summary of the Dec. 1, 2017, meeting also does not include any mention of Akamatsu again voicing a different opinion when Abe presented his proposal for the April 30, 2019, abdication as well as his intention to hold off on making a decision.

In the end, however, Akamatsu signed a document that stated the Imperial Household Council was in full agreement with the proposal made by Abe.

It also appears that the prime minister's office had planned from the outset to not keep detailed minutes.

Prior to the Imperial Household Council meeting, Akamatsu made clear to government officials who came to brief him, as well as fellow lawmakers, that he was not satisfied with the April 30, 2019, abdication date.

With that red flag threatening to wreck hopes of presenting a picture of full consensus among the council's participants, one government source said that officials then decided that the only way to assure that detailed minutes are never disclosed is not to compile them in the first place.

Detailed minutes were also not kept for meetings of other councils set up to prepare for the abdication of Akihito and ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne by Naruhito, who will be 59 when he becomes emperor.

Only summaries of the meetings have been disclosed, and the wording deliberately obfuscates who said what during the discussions.

This is in sharp contrast to the minutes of the two other Imperial Household Council meetings held during the Heisei Era that reflect an abiding interest in the backgrounds of the prospective brides for Fumihito and Naruhito.

The minutes for the 1993 council meeting that discussed the planned marriage of Naruhito to Masako Owada included an explanation by Shoichi Fujimori, the grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency at the time, concerning the earnestness with which Naruhito wanted to marry the then diplomat.

The minutes showed that the Owada family initially asked that Masako not be considered as a potential crown princess, and possible future empress, but Naruhito decided that there was no one else for him and the marriage was eventually approved six years after the topic was first broached.