Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will not attend the official annual memorial service for the 2011 tsunami-quake disaster on March 11, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
Instead, Prince Akishino, their second son, and his wife, Princess Kiko, will attend the ceremony. Suga said the decision is not related to the ongoing government inquiries into whether an emperor should be allowed to abdicate, though he did not elaborate.
“It has nothing to do with the issue (of easing the Emperor’s burden of public duties). In a sense, it is only natural” that Akishino will attend on behalf of the Emperor, Suga said.
The Emperor and Empress have attended all of the annual memorial services for the 2011 disaster held at the National Theater in Tokyo, from 2012 through 2016.
However, they attended a similar annual memorial service for victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake only on the 10th and 20th anniversaries, Suga pointed out.
On Aug. 8, Emperor Akihito surprised the nation by indicating that he wishes to abdicate soon due to his advanced age.
He discussed his intention in a rare video message that was aired nationwide and sparked public debate on whether an emperor should be allowed to relinquish the throne.
The Imperial House Law stipulates that a successor can ascend to the Imperial throne only when his predecessor dies. This in effect means an emperor is banned from retiring under the current laws.
In the video message, however, the Emperor, 83, said he is concerned that he will eventually become unable to perform his public duties because of his age.
“It was some years ago, after my two surgeries that I began to feel a decline in my fitness level because of my advancing age, and I started to think about the pending future,” he said in the video message.
“I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now,” the Emperor said.