Japan's emperor undergoes heart surgery

2012-02-18 08:36

Tokyo - Japan's Emperor Akihito went into surgery for a heart bypass operation on Saturday as hundreds of people wished the 78-year-old monarch well in his latest health battle.

The emperor went into the operating theatre at the University of Tokyo Hospital 00:24, said a spokesperson at the imperial household agency.

The operation, being carried out by surgeons from the hospital and the private Juntendo University, was expected to take around five hours.

The emperor was advised to undergo the procedure after tests showed a narrowing of two of his coronary arteries.

The aim of the surgery was "to maintain and to improve his majesty's daily life", another palace spokesman said earlier.

The emperor is likely to be discharged after about two weeks if he recovers well from the operation, Jiji Press reported.

His wife Empress Michiko and daughter Sayako Kuroda, a former princess who left the royal household to marry a commoner, saw him off at the entrance of the operating room, national broadcaster NHK said.

His doctors will hold a press conference in the evening.

During his operation and recuperation, Akihito's first son Crown Prince Naruhito has taken over official duties such as attending public ceremonies and meeting state guests.

The monarch arrived at the hospital on Friday morning accompanied by Michiko, who also stayed there overnight with him, while thousands of members of the public visited the Imperial Palace to sign books wishing him well.

Local press reports have stressed the surgery is a routine procedure that thousands of Japanese undergo every year.

But the surgery comes amid increasing concerns about Akihito's health.

A catheter angiogram taken a week ago showed that his arteries had continued to narrow since an examination a year ago, the palace said in a statement.

Doctors advised that action was necessary to stop the trend, it said.

In November, Akihito, who acceded to the throne in 1989 following the death of his father Hirohito, spent 19 days in hospital with mild pneumonia while he underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003.

His youngest son Prince Akishino has suggested there should be a discussion about setting a retirement age for the head of state.

Despite being stripped of much of its mystique and its quasi-divine status in the aftermath of World War II, the Japanese throne is held in deep respect by much of the public.