Prince Mikasa, uncle of Emperor Akihito, died of heart failure on Thursday at a Tokyo hospital, the Imperial Household Agency said. He was 100.
The prince, the oldest member of the Imperial family, was the youngest brother of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa.
In May, he was hospitalized for pneumonia. He recovered from the symptoms but since then his heart weakened, which led to his death at 8:34 a.m. Thursday at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Chuo Ward, a spokesman at the Imperial Household Agency said.
Prince Mikasa was born on Dec. 2, 1915. His wife, Princess Yuriko, 93, was at his bedside when he passed away, the spokesman said.
The prince had long suffered from a heart problem and underwent surgery in 2012 at age 96.
He was fifth in line to succeed the male-only Imperial throne.
There are now only four heirs in the Imperial family — Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, Prince Akishino, 50, Prince Hisahito, 10, and Prince Hitachi, 80.
“I can’t bear the sense of sorrow facing the report of his death,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted as saying by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news conference later in the day.
“Born as the fourth son of Emperor Taisho, he had long assisted his elder brother, Emperor Showa, and then the reigning Emperor (Akihito),” Abe was quoted as saying.
An advisory panel to the government is currently discussing ways to reduce public duties for Emperor Akihito, 82, including possible legislation to allow him to abdicate due to his advanced age.
The Imperial family is, meanwhile, facing a shortage of young male heirs, raising concerns over the long-term survival of the world’s oldest existing monarchy.
However, when asked if the government will ask the panel to also discuss the issue of heirs, Suga said it would not.
Following the passing of Prince Mikasa, a meeting between the Emperor and visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that was scheduled for later Thursday was canceled, a Foreign Ministry official said.
During the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese war, Prince Mikasa served as an officer of the Imperial Army in China under a pseudonym, Wakasugi.
During the Sino-Japanese war, he was critical of Japan’s aggression into China. Then in the postwar years, the prince emphasized the importance of peace.
In a 1994 interview with Yomiuri Shimbun, the prince criticized the Japanese Imperial Army for invading China and committing atrocities there.
“I was strongly shocked when an officer told me that the best way to train new soldiers is to use a living prisoner-of-war as the target of bayonet practice,” he was quoted as saying in the interview.
In the 1950s, he opposed nationalistic campaigns to make a national holiday of Feb. 11, the day when legends say the first Emperor Jimmu rose to the Imperial throne in 660 B.C. There was no historical evidence to pinpoint the date, Prince Mikasa maintained, following the lead of mainstream historians.
The prince was known as a scholar of ancient Oriental history. He also served as honorary president of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan and the Japan-Turkey Society.
On the occasion of his 100th birthday last December, the prince issued a statement, saying “Nothing will change just because I turn 100 years old.”
“I’d like to spend my days pleasantly and peacefully while praying for the happiness of people around the world and thanking my wife, Yuriko, who has been supporting me for more than 70 years,” the prince said.
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