Addressing the country on his 83rd birthday Friday, Emperor Akihito thanked the public for heeding his message earlier in the year indicating his desire to abdicate.
His annual birthday remarks followed a rare video message in which he said his advanced age could one day prevent him from fulfilling his duties as the symbol of the state. Currently, there are no provisions in the law allowing an Emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne.
“In August, in consultation with the Cabinet Office, I delivered a message expressing what has been on my mind over the last few years, reflecting on my years as the Emperor and contemplating my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come,” he said in a news conference Tuesday ahead of his birthday. “I am profoundly grateful that many people have lent an ear to my words and are giving sincere thought to the matter in their respective positions.”
A nationwide survey concerning the Imperial household conducted in November showed nearly 90 percent of the public supported the idea of allowing the Emperor to abdicate, while respondents were divided on whether the government should quickly decide on taking legislative measures or carefully consider the issue.
In the news conference, the Emperor recalled his uncle Prince Mikasa, who died at the age of 100 in October.
“The prince was one of the Imperial family members who had experienced World War II firsthand, and it meant much to me to be able to hear him talk of his experience,” the Emperor said, referring to his service in China during the war.
The death of the centenarian, who was then fifth in line to the Imperial throne, has highlighted anew the aging and shrinking of the Imperial family. His death left only four heirs eligible to ascend the throne, to which only males can accede.
The four eligible heirs are Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, Prince Akishino, 51, his 10-year-old son Prince Hisahito, and Prince Hitachi, 81, the emperor’s only surviving brother.
The Emperor also touched on the death, also in October, of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, recounting exchanges with the Thai royal family.
“I fondly recall the many occasions over the years on which we deepened our friendship, such as when the Empress and I attended the 60th anniversary celebrations of his accession to the throne,” referring to his travel to Thailand in 2006.
The Emperor’s desire to abdicate, which was first reported by Japanese media in July, has brought public attention to the heavy burden on the aged monarch presented by his official duties at home and abroad.
In January, the Emperor, along with Empress Michiko, 82, traveled to the Philippines to pay tribute to both Japanese and Filipinos who lost their lives in WWII as the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties.
Commenting on the trip and recounting his first visit to the country in 1962, the emperor said, “I was happy to see how our bilateral relations have greatly progressed over the last 54 years.”
Domestically, as has happened over the years, the Emperor and Empress visited various locations hit by natural disasters to comfort the survivors.
In addition to visits to three northeastern prefectures devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — the Imperial Couple visited Kumamoto Prefecture in May following earthquakes that caused heavy damage the previous month.
“While it broke my heart to see the extent of the damage, I was also touched to see how the people were helping one another as they strove to overcome adversity together,” the Emperor said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government set up an advisory panel in September to study how to alleviate the burden on the Emperor, including the feasibility of abdication, after his video message was broadcast nationwide.
To enable the Emperor to relinquish the throne, an amendment to the Constitution or the Imperial Household Law, or special legislation, is required.
The six-member panel, chaired by Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), is expected to compile a report in January summarizing issues pertaining to the Emperor’s possible abdication. The panel’s next meeting is scheduled to be held on Jan. 11.