Lighten the Emperor’s workload

Two weeks have passed since the Emperor underwent coronary-artery bypass surgery at the University of Tokyo Hospital on Feb. 18. We sincerely pray that his recovery will go smoothly and that he will be able to return to his normal daily life free from health concerns. Now 78, the Emperor had been saddled with too many official duties in recent years. The government must quickly take measures to alleviate his burden and help ensure his recovery goes smoothly.

The Emperor is the first to have acceded to the throne under the postwar Constitution, which proclaims that “sovereign power resides with the people” and declares that “the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people.” The Emperor and the Empress take their duties very seriously and strive to be close to the people. Following the March 11 disasters, they made many trips to visit victims to provide consolation and encouragement and boost their morale.

The Emperor has an extremely strong sense of responsibility toward his official duties. But stress should be avoided to keep his heart healthy. For example, at the age of 74, he received 4.6 times more foreign ambassadors who were taking up new posts in Japan or departing, and traveled inside Japan 2.3 times more than his father, the Emperor Showa, did at the same age. So the government should take steps to reduce his official duties.

On Feb. 17, the Emperor temporarily delegated the performance of his “acts in matters of state” to the Crown Prince. Such duties include promulgation of laws, Cabinet orders and treaties, receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers, proclamation of general elections of Diet members, and awarding honors.

The Constitution has no provision for abdication from the throne. In view of the Emperor’s age and health, the government should consider a system under which he performs a limited number of official duties important enough to merit his involvement while the Crown Prince continues to carry out some of the official duties that the Emperor traditionally performed. A revision of the Imperial Household Law may be needed for such a change. The government and the Diet must closely work together to take whatever steps are necessary to lighten the Emperor’s burden and help ensure his full and lasting recovery.