While he didn’t explicitly state it, Japan’s Emperor Akihito has reiterated his wish to step down from the throne in the near future in a publicly televised address. In a 10 minute pre-recorded message, the 82 year-old Emperor reflected upon his years on the throne, and spoke about how his age and health issues are making it difficult for him to fulfill his royal duties.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the government would take the Emperor’s remarks seriously and see what could be done about the situation. “Upon reflecting how he handles his official duty and so on, his age and the current situation of how he works, I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do,” he said.
Emperor Akihito succeeded his father, Emperor Hirohito in 1989. If he were to step down from the throne, he would be the first Japanese Emperor to abdicate since Emperor Kokaku in 1817.
Abdication is not mentioned under the existing laws in Japan, so the parliament will need to approve a change in the law before the Emperor can give up the throne. Emperor Akihito will be succeeded by his eldest son, 56 year-old Crown Prince Naruhito. Since women are not allowed to ascend the throne, the Crown Prince’s daughter, Princess Aiko, cannot succeed her father, and so the second-in-line to the throne is Naruhito’s younger brother Prince Akishino.
The historic address was watched on big outdoor screens all over Tokyo, and the public – particularly the younger generation – support the Emperor’s decision to abdicate in his old age.
The Emperor’s full speech can be read below:
“While, being in the position of the emperor, I must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing imperial system, I would like to tell you what I, as an individual, have been thinking about.
Ever since my accession to the throne, I have carried out the acts of the emperor in matters of state, and at the same time I have spent my days searching for and contemplating on what is the desirable role of the emperor, who is designated to be the symbol of the state by the constitution of Japan. As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition.
At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese imperial family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.”