Friday 2 December 2016

Emperor of Japan hints at his wish to abdicate

Karla DeWintours

Published 09/08/2016 | 02:30

Emperor Akihito: age worries Photo: Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP
Emperor Akihito: age worries Photo: Imperial Household Agency of Japan via AP

The Japanese Emperor Akihito (82), in a rare video address, has admitted to worries that age may make it difficult for him to fully carry out his duties.

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The remarks are regarded as the clearest indication yet that he intends to abdicate.

It was reported last month that Akihito, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer, wanted to step down in a few years.

An abdication would be unprecedented in modern Japan.

The Japanese used to consider their emperors to be divine.

Now, the emperor is defined in the constitution as a symbol of the state and the unity of the people but has no political power.

Akihito stopped short of saying outright that he wanted to abdicate, which could be interpreted as interfering in politics.

Regent

Nevertheless, he did say: "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."

Akihito took the throne after the death in 1989 of his father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War II. He has sought to soothe the wounds of the war in Asia during trips overseas and tried to bring the monarchy closer to the people.

Opinion polls show that the vast majority of ordinary Japanese sympathise with the emperor's desire to retire, but this would need changes to the law.

Akihito has been cutting back on official duties, with his heir, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, taking his place. However, there are limits to how far that could go, he said yesterday.

The emperor also seemed to cast doubt on whether it was appropriate to use an existing system that would allow Naruhito to take over as regent if his father was to be incapacitated.

"Even in such cases (of a regency), it does not change the fact that the emperor continues to be emperor until the end of his life, even though he is unable to fully carry out his duties as the emperor," Akihito said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that in view of the emperor's age and the burden of his official duties, it was necessary to consider what steps could be taken.

The idea of abdication has sparked opposition from Abe's conservative base, which worries that debate of the imperial family's future could widen to the topic of letting women inherit and pass on the throne, which is anathema to traditionalists.

Naruhito's only child is a daughter. Only males can inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne, which after Naruhito would pass to his brother, Prince Akishino and then to nine-year-old nephew Hisahito.

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