For the second time in his reigning history Japan's Emperor has made a televised address. In a video-message aired Monday, Emperor Akihito expressed concern about how his advanced age is affecting the performance of his public duties, in a speech that was widely construed as conveying his wish to abdicate in the near future.
In the 10-minute speech, the 82-year-old Emperor did not use the word "abdicate", but he strongly indicated that he wishes to hand over his duties. He did point out that he has already had two operations and now has the keen feeling that his “strength has decreased.”“I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health. However, 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,”
the Emperor said in the nationally televised message.
Although he believes visiting various places throughout the country and sharing joy and sorrow with the people is a very important duty, the Emperor said his advanced age will eventually make it difficult to fully do this.“In coping with the aging of the Emperor, I think it is not possible to continue reducing perpetually the Emperor’s acts in matters of state and his duties as the symbol of the State,”
Imperial House Law needs to be revised if an emperor wants to abdicate. But any talk of changing the Imperial system would likely spark controversy. The Imperial House Law is a permanent law. If any articles about abdication are inserted, it could bring confusion to the succession system and the status of the Imperial family. Under the Constitution and the Imperial House Law, the system of Imperial succession gives no consideration to the will of an emperor. This means an emperor is obliged to serve until death, after which the crown prince is bound to automatically succeed him.
Some experts suggested that Emperor could evoke Article 16 of the Imperial House Law. Article 16 allows someone in the Imperial family to serve as a regent to take over the emperor’s duties if he is a minor or has suffered from severe disease or accident. But in the video message, the Emperor appeared to have a negative view of this proposal.“Even in such cases, however, it does not change the fact that the emperor continues to be the emperor till the end of his life, even though he is unable to fully carry out his duties as the emperor,”
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 government is now expected to set up a panel of experts and intellectuals familiar with the Imperial system to debate the issues. The whole process, even if successful, could take a few years, observers say.
Akihito has already been cutting back on official duties, with his heir, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, taking his place.