National

Emperor may speak publicly about his future as early as Aug. 8, sources say

Kyodo, Staff Report

The Imperial Household Agency is considering arranging an opportunity for 82-year-old Emperor Akihito to publicly express his view on his future as early as Aug. 8, government sources said Friday, amid speculation that he is considering abdicating.

If realized, the Emperor will talk about how he may perform his official duties in the future, the sources said, adding his remarks could be aired live on television. It would be the first opportunity for the Emperor to convey his thoughts on his role to the public.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday that he is aware of media reports on the Emperor’s plan to address the public, but added he would refrain from making any comments as a government spokesman.

As any abdication will require the Imperial House Law to be revised, the government has been studying the feasibility of that move since last month to compile an outline of possible amendments, separate government sources said.

But the Emperor is likely to avoid making any direct reference to an abdication since doing so could imply he is suggesting a change to the state’s system in breach of the Constitution, which stipulates an emperor shall be the symbol of the state and not have powers related to government.

The Emperor is expected to express his thoughts to the public on whether it is acceptable for him to stay on the throne if he cannot fully perform his duties as a symbol of the state due to his age.

The agency has taken into consideration public feedback on a need to hear the Emperor’s thoughts, since July 13 when the move by the government to revise the law came to light.It is considering appropriate ways and a time for the Emperor to express his thoughts in consultation with him. In addition to a television broadcast, the agency chief could possibly speak on behalf of the Emperor.

Meanwhile, agency Grand Steward Noriyuki Kazaoka told reporters Friday morning that no such schedule had so far been decided.

But sources close to the matter said the agency is likely arranging a date, possibly sometime in early August, as the Imperial Couple spend their summer holidays at a resort in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in late August.

The date could be as early as Aug. 8, avoiding some annual national events such as the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively, and of the end of World War II, which falls on Aug. 15.

News reports in mid-July suggested the Emperor wishes to hand over the throne to his 56-year-old son, Crown Prince Naruhito, due to concerns about his ability to continue fully performing his duties.

After the initial reports, sources said the Emperor had told close aides that the performance of his duties is inseparable from his status as a symbol of the state, expressing his desire to abdicate if he cannot perform them in the future. The Emperor said last December that he had made some mistakes at ceremonies and was feeling his age.

The agency has reduced his workload since 2009 and said in May it would cancel his meetings with heads of administrative agencies at the Imperial Palace.

Emperor Akihito ascended the throne at the age of 55 upon the death of his 87-year-old father, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, in 1989. He became the first emperor to do so as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people, the new status given to the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy under the war-renouncing Constitution.

Under the current Constitution and the Imperial House Law, the system of Imperial succession gives no consideration to the will of an emperor.

This means an emperor is obliged to serve in the position until his death, after which the crown prince is bound to automatically succeed him.

The concept of voluntary abdication for an emperor or a crown prince is not provided for under the existing system.

The Emperor’s age has become increasingly apparent in recent years, and he often walks with the assistance of Empress Michiko in public.

The Emperor underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in 2003, and a heart bypass operation in 2012.

“I think a retirement age system will be necessary,” Prince Akishino said during a news conference in December 2011.

“After a human reaches a certain age, it gradually becomes more difficult to do various things,” he said.

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