Crown Prince Naruhito, on the occasion of his 57th birthday on Thursday, expressed his readiness to ascend the throne as Emperor Akihito is expected to abdicate, possibly next year, becoming the first emperor to do so in nearly 200 years.
The Crown Prince spoke about the 83-year-old Emperor’s possible abdication for the first time since his father indicated his desire to step down in a rare video message last August.
“I listened to it solemnly,” the Crown Prince said at a press conference held Tuesday prior to his birthday, where he was asked how he received the message.
“I would like to take it into my heart seriously and work on my duties, bearing it constantly in mind,” he said, referring to the Emperor’s thoughts in the message on his role as the symbol of the state under the Constitution.
The Crown Prince is first in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
As the Imperial House Law, which stipulates issues related to the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, lacks a provision for abdication, an amendment to the law or special legislation will be required to fulfill the Emperor’s desire.
As for what an emperor’s role should be, the prince said, “It’s important for an emperor to keep asking himself what the symbol of the state should be, while giving profound consideration to the Constitution, which stipulates that an emperor is the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan, and to wish for the happiness of the people while sharing joys and sorrows with them.”
The Crown Prince said, “I would like to continue to pray for, always stand by, and share joys and sorrows with the people,” as done by the Emperor and Empress Michiko, 82.
He also said he talks regularly with Crown Princess Masako, 53, to share the thoughts and feelings, and intends to talk with her about their future duties.
Asked when and how the Emperor had conveyed his desire to abdicate to the Crown Prince, he said there was no special occasion on which the Emperor formally expressed it. “At times, he had directly put his thoughts into words. At other times, I have gauged it from his way of talking. It’s hard for me to tell you exactly when and how (I came to know his desire).”
Nevertheless, the Crown Prince said he was “shaken” when he heard the Emperor actually convey in the message that one day he may not be able to conduct his duties.
The Emperor said in the televised video, “When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, 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.”
But he “deeply understands” how the Emperor had reached that feeling and believes his father decided to release the message after due consideration and careful consultation with relevant people, including the members of the Cabinet.
The Crown Prince also expressed concern for his parents’ well-being, now that they are in their 80s, and said he hoped they would have more time to spend for themselves.
The death of Prince Mikasa, the Emperor’s centenarian uncle, last October brought the number of Imperial family members down to 19, leaving only four male heirs to the throne — Prince Hitachi, 81, the emperor’s only surviving brother, the Crown Prince, his brother, Prince Akishino, 51, and his 10-year-old son, Prince Hisahito.
On the aging and shrinking Imperial family, the Crown Prince said, “How we will take over and share official duties being carried out by the imperial family members is an important issue as it links to the future of the family.”
The Crown Prince, however, declined to comment on the Imperial household system.
To enable the Emperor to abdicate, the ruling parties led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party envision the creation of a one-off legal mechanism through a bill to be submitted to the ongoing Diet session. But opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, had argued that the Imperial law should be revised to allow future emperors to abdicate.