Emperor Akihito’s highly anticipated video message to the public Monday could herald a major change in the nation’s Imperial system if it leads to a legal change enabling his abdication.
Japanese are awaiting the 82-year-old Emperor’s forthcoming statement, which comes just weeks after news reports that he wishes to hand over the throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, out of concern his advanced age could one day prevent him from fully carrying out his official duties.
The Imperial Household Agency has been studying how to communicate the Emperor’s feelings to the public at this critical juncture, and decided on a video message rather than a live televised address to avoid the risks of what is said being misconstrued, aides say.
The Emperor is expected to read out a statement to share his concern about fulfilling his duties in the future as a symbol of the state, while not directly referring to abdication.
“(The Emperor) had a strong wish to directly speak to the public, but live coverage cannot be shot again so the risk was big,” a senior agency official said, explaining the reason for avoiding an unprecedented live televised address by an emperor.
Monday’s statement, which is scheduled to be aired at 3 p.m., will only be the Emperor’s second video message, following one released five days after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit parts of the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
The issue of abdication is sensitive.
The Imperial House Law, which sets out rules for affairs concerning the Imperial Family, including the line of succession, has no provision for a reigning emperor to abdicate.
For abdication to happen, a host of issues will need to be worked out, including conditions for abdication and its compatibility with the Constitution, which defines an emperor as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”
The Emperor will be making his thoughts public amid overwhelming public support for making necessary changes for his abdication, as shown by a recent Kyodo News public opinion survey. The statement, no matter what language the Emperor uses, is likely to have an impact on future political discussions.
In his first videotape message to the nation in mid-March 2011, the Emperor said, “I am deeply hurt by the grievous situation in the disaster-hit areas.”
That message was released in response to the strong wishes of the Emperor and Empress Michiko to directly communicate with the public, as they were extremely concerned by the extensive and grave damage wrought by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the agency said.
The Emperor holds press conferences only before his birthday in December and ahead of his overseas trips.
The agency’s press club submits questions beforehand, and footage of the Emperor responding to the questions is recorded and broadcast at a later date.