Crown Prince Naruhito, who turned 58 on Friday, vowed to “pursue self-improvement” ahead of his accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019.
Speaking about the emperor’s constitutional role as symbol of the state in the upcoming new era, the Crown Prince said, “I think … what people expect in official duties will change according to social changes, and it would be important to respond to new demands. I would like to sincerely perform official duties accordingly.”
The Crown Prince made the comments at a news conference held prior to his birthday, marking the first occasion for him to share his thoughts in public since the timing of Emperor Akihito’s abdication was set for April 30, 2019.
The 84-year-old Emperor hinted at his desire to step aside in a rare video message televised in August 2016, citing concern that his age and weakening health could one day prevent him from fulfilling his duties.
The Diet enacted a one-off law last June to enable him to pass the throne to the Crown Prince, his elder son. It will be Japan’s first Imperial abdication in more than 200 years.
The Crown Prince said he believes it will be essential for him to “stand by the people, listen to their voices and be close to them in their thoughts,” the same phrase the Emperor used in the video message in describing his views about his foremost duty.
The Constitution describes the emperor as a symbol of the state and of the unity of the people. The Crown Prince said it will be important for him to “continue to look for” a desirable role for the emperor as the symbol of the state while “sharing joy and sorrow with the people and wishing their happiness” and “contemplating” what is stipulated in the Constitution.
He also expressed his desire to have opportunities to interact with citizens as often as possible.
Upon his accession to the throne, Crown Princess Masako, the Harvard- and Oxford-educated former diplomat battling a stress-related illness, will become the empress. She has shown signs of recovery in recent years by appearing in public more frequently.
About his wife, the Crown Prince said, “I think she will continue to make efforts toward a recovery while taking heed of her health condition. As for public activities, I want her to build up efforts, performing what she can one by one.”
The Emperor, who has had heart surgery and underwent treatment for prostate cancer, will be 85 when he abdicates, while Empress Michiko will be 84.
Special legislation had to be worked out by the Diet for him to relinquish the throne, as the Imperial House Law lacks a provision on abdication.
Speaking about recent news, the Crown Prince said he was amazed by Japanese athletes’ performances at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. Referring to men’s figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu and women’s 500-meter speedskating winner Nao Kodaira, he said, “I could see their deep friendship beyond borders as I watched them express their admiration for each other with long-acquainted overseas athletes.”
The Crown Prince was the first child to be raised by an emperor and empress in the country as his parents abolished the Imperial family’s traditional nanny system. The Crown Prince was educated at Gakushuin University from its kindergarten to the university’s graduate school and studied for two years at Oxford University’s Merton College.
He married Masako Owada, a career diplomat, in June 1993, and the couple have a daughter, 16-year-old Princess Aiko. The princess cannot ascend the throne as the law prohibits women from becoming an emperor.
Also on Friday, the government endorsed the Crown Prince’s planned visit to Brazil between March 16 and 22 to attend the eighth World Water Forum.