Emperor’s ills crank up rumor mill

Kyodo News

Doctors for Emperor Akihito blame stress for his stomach problems but have declined to elaborate on its source.

As expected, this has given rise to speculation about the cause, with some observers citing a long-standing tiff with the family of his oldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, or the Emperor’s concern over the future of the Imperial family.

The Imperial Household Agency’s medical supervisor, Ichiro Kanazawa, said at a news conference Tuesday that the Emperor’s official duties should be reduced through the New Year’s period but added, “Please do not simply think that he feels distress because he is busy performing official duties or his schedule is tight.”

One senior agency official speculated, “The Emperor must be fretting about the future course of the Imperial family and what the Japanese Imperial system should be like.”

Under the Constitution, emperors serve as a symbol of the state and have no authority over national political affairs.

The latest medical exams, conducted after the 74-year-old Emperor had to cancel some official duties last week due to an irregular pulse and high blood pressure, found traces of bleeding and erosion all over his stomach and duodenum, and the supervisor partly attributed the stomach symptoms to mental stress.

“His majesty has felt distress over many matters and I believe he has just patiently held himself back,” Kanazawa said.

One close aide said the Emperor’s stomach was “unscathed like that of a child” in exams five to six years ago.

The aide suggested his distress has grown over the past few years, especially after a controversial remark by the Crown Prince regarding his reclusive wife, Crown Princess Masako.

The Crown Princess, who celebrated her 45th birthday Tuesday, largely retreated from public view in December 2003, mainly due to physical and mental distress, and has since skipped most of her official duties.

Amid little sign of improvement in his wife’s condition, the Crown Prince said at a news conference in May 2004, “It is true that there were developments that denied Princess Masako’s career as well as her personality driven by her career.”

The remarks sparked public controversy and are believed to have widened the gulf between the son and his parents, which had already developed because of the Imperial succession crisis.

The Crown Princess, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated former diplomat who married the Crown Prince in 1993, had long been under pressure to bear a male heir, as no boys had been born to the Imperial family since the birth in 1965 of Prince Akishino, the Crown Prince’s younger brother.

Although the situation abated after Princess Kiko, the wife of Prince Akishino, gave birth in 2006 to Prince Hisahito, the issue weighed heavily on the Emperor, as he had been worried it might split public opinion, according to some sources.

A government panel on Imperial succession crafted a report in 2005 proposing that females and their descendants be allowed to ascend the throne. The government was to prepare a bill based on the report to revise the 60-year-old Imperial House Law, sparking outrage among opponents who criticized the move as leading to the effective end of the Imperial regime.

The Emperor has also displayed disappointment over a lack of opportunities to see his granddaughter, Princess Aiko, the daughter of the Crown Prince and Princess.

Imperial Household Agency chief Shingo Haketa advised earlier this year that the Crown Prince and his family visit the Emperor and Empress Michiko more often at the Imperial Palace.

Amid the string of reports over the Emperor’s health problems in recent years, calls had already been growing that his official duties be cut back and that he rest more.

The Emperor underwent surgery to remove prostate cancer in January 2003 and was diagnosed last February as being prone to brittle bone disease due to a side effect of hormone treatment for his prostate cancer.

The Emperor turns 75 on Dec. 23.

Medical supervisor Kanazawa said he has proposed to the agency that the Emperor’s duties related to his birthday be reduced as well.