Japan’s ageing emperor hints at abdication

Japan’s ageing emperor hints at abdication

Japan’s ageing emperor hints at abdication

A screen displays Japanese Emperor Akihito delivering a speech in Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. AP photo

Emperor Akihito said Aug. 8 his advancing age and weakening health mean he may no longer be able to carry out his duties, setting the stage for Japan to prepare for an historic abdication.

“There are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness,” the 82-year-old said in a national address, according to AFP.

“As we are in the midst of a rapidly ageing society, I would like to talk to you today about what would be a desirable role of the emperor in a time when the emperor, too, becomes advanced in age,” he said.

Speculation about Akihito’s future emerged last month with reports he had told confidantes that he would like to step down in a few years, in what would be the first abdication from the Chrysanthemum Throne in two centuries.

“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,” he said, wearing a dark suit and sitting at a table in the pre-recorded video.

Akihito spoke obliquely - never mentioning the word abdication and stressing he is legally prevented from commenting on the imperial system - but analysts and media said his intention was clear.

“His majesty the emperor hints at abdication,” read a two-page extra edition by the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun daily.

The comments will now allow the government to begin creating the legal mechanism for a royal departure, which currently does not exist.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a swift response, said the government would take his remarks “seriously.”
“Considering the emperor’s duties, as well as his age and the burden [of the job], we have to firmly look at what we can do,” he said.

Public reaction to the speech was sympathetic.

“Since his majesty is getting so old, I was worried about his health, but he made his intention clear and the abdication issue came up,” said 20-year-old Ryota Utsumi.  

“It gives me a sense of relief,” added Utsumi, who watched the address on a big screen in a busy Tokyo shopping area.