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Emperor Akihito of Japan Raises Possibility of Leaving Throne

Emperor Akihito, 82, spoke publicly for the first time about retiring, saying he feared it would become ‘more difficult’ to fulfill his duties.

Jonathan Noble reports: It has been something of an open secret in Japan that Emperor Akihito would like a privilege most people take for granted: At 82, he wants to retire. The question is whether the Japanese and their elected leaders will let him.

In an extraordinary televised address on Monday, the popular emperor spoke publicly about the issue for the first time. Though his words were characteristically vague — he discussed his age, his rigorous daily schedule and what he called his increasing physical limitations — the message was unmistakable.

“I am concerned that it will become more and more difficult for me to fulfill my duties as a symbolic emperor,” he said in a prerecorded address that lasted about 10 minutes and was broadcast on multiple Japanese television networks.

If Akihito steps down, the move could redefine Japan’s royal family, the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. While the emperor now has only symbolic power, an abdication could also resurrect a contentious issue in Japan: the debate over allowing a woman to occupy the throne.

[Read the full story here, at The New York Times]

First reported in banner headlines by the Japanese news media in July, Akihito, who has been treated for cancer and heart problems, was said to want to retire and pass the title to his son Crown Prince Naruhito, 56. Prince Naruhito appears to share his father’s quiet temperament and wish to keep the monarchy apolitical.

But abdication is complicated because of Japanese law, which says an emperor serves until death. Parliament would have to change the law for Akihito to step down.

In a short response, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested that his government was open to changing the law, though he stopped short of making a specific commitment to do so.

“Considering His Majesty’s age, the burden of his official duties and his anxieties, we must think carefully about what can be done,” he said.

Japanese emperors define eras in the country. Its unique calendar is based on their reigns: 2016 is expressed as Akihito’s 28th year on the throne, and when his successor takes over, the date will reset to Year One….(read more)

Source: The New York Times

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