Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko stand together by Sokintei arbor. Photo / Getty
The Japanese emperor, in a rare address to the public, signaled Monday his apparent wish to abdicate by expressing concern about his ability to carry out his duties fully.
“When I consider my age of over 80, as well as my gradually deteriorating physical condition despite being luckily healthy at this moment, I am concerned about being able to fulfill by duties as a symbol with the utmost efforts, as I have done so far,” he said in a 10-minute pre-recorded speech broadcast on national television.
It may be the closet he could come to saying he wants to step down, given restrictions on what he can say as a symbolic monarch with no political power. As expected, he avoided using the word “abdication,” which could have violated those restrictions.
The 82-year-old monarch spoke publicly after recent media reports that he may want to abdicate. If he does, it isn’t expected to happen immediately, as legal changes would be needed to allow him to do so.
Akihito has reportedly told palace officials and his family that he doesn’t wish to cling to his title if his responsibilities have to be severely reduced, and his two sons have accepted the idea.Akihito suggested in his speech a need to consider how to make the succession process smoother.
Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989 after the death of his father, Hirohito, who was considered a deity until Japan
’s defeat in the World War II, fought in the name of the emperor.
Akihito brought the cloistered imperial family closer to the public and broke with other traditions, including his marriage to a commoner. He has repeatedly said he respects Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution and is committed to his status as the symbol and the unity of the people, not the sovereign.
Some speculate that Akihito’s abdication may be an attempt to put a break on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to rewrite the constitution. Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters want to scrap a part of the war-renouncing article and upgrade the emperor to the sovereign again.