Japan emperor to address nation amid abdication reports

2016-08-05 22:53
Japanese Emperor Akihito waves from the balcony to well-wishers celebrating his birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (File, Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP)

Japanese Emperor Akihito waves from the balcony to well-wishers celebrating his birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (File, Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP)

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Tokyo - Japanese Emperor Akihito will address the nation next week, the imperial palace said on Friday, following reports that the octogenarian wants to abdicate the throne of one of the world's oldest monarchies.

An Imperial Household Agency spokesperson said Akihito's address, via video, would be broadcast at 15:00 on Monday.

The 82-year-old, who has been suffering from health problems for years, was not expected to announce explicit plans to step down, as he is constitutionally barred from making political statements.

"The emperor will express his feelings regarding his duties as a symbol of the nation,” the spokesperson said.

But Japanese media, including public broadcaster NHK, have widely reported that Akihito would likely hint at his desire to abdicate the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Major media said last month that Akihito expressed to close advisers that he wanted to pass the throne to his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, in the next few years.

The reports came as a surprise to many in Japan where the last abdication happened in 1817, nearly 200 years ago.

Akihito, who has suffered from prostate cancer and heart problems in recent years, spoke of his growing limitations last year.

He acknowledged making unspecified "mistakes" in his duties, which range from native Shinto religious ceremonies to visiting residents in regions hit by Japan's frequent natural disasters.

Akihito's second son, Prince Akishino, a few years ago suggested that emperors should be allowed to retire.

The spokesman for the agency, the tradition-steeped government body that manages royal affairs, said no decision had yet been made on how the video would be released.

'Most suitable way'

But Kyodo News reported that the video would be uploaded on the Imperial Household Agency's website and also broadcast on television.

The possible abdication is a complicated and sensitive issue in Japan, where current law put in place after World War II made the emperor the "symbol of the state" with no provisions for one to step down.

But the highly choreographed event on Monday could well set a process in motion for legal changes that would enable abdication.

According to NHK, the emperor is expected to speak for about 10 minutes.

An unnamed palace official told the broadcaster that officials discussed the possibility of Akihito expressing his feelings in December last year.

But they ultimately decided to continue discussions and secretly started a study session on the issue from the beginning of this year.

"We believe that having the emperor's feelings heard carefully is most important," NHK quoted a palace official as saying.

"We chose the most suitable way to deliver the emperor's words to the public in a secure, precise and comprehensive way," the official said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is planning to release a statement on the same day in response to the emperor's remarks, NHK reported earlier on Friday.

The mass-circulation Yomiuri newspaper said last week that the government plans to set up a panel of experts to discuss revising the law governing the imperial family system as early as this autumn.

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

Akihito's father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan's military campaigns of the 20th century were carried out, was treated as a living god until defeat in 1945. He died from cancer in 1989.

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