8 Aug 2016

Japan's emperor hints at wish to abdicate

7:10 pm on 8 August 2016

Japanese Emperor Akihito has subtly told the Japanese people he eventually wishes to step down from the throne.

Japanese Emperor Akihito

Japanese Emperor Akihito Photo: AFP

In a rare video address to the nation, the 82-year-old monarch outlined his concerns that he could not do his job fully but avoided saying outright he wished to abdicate.

Emperor Akihito, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer, said he often felt physical weakness prevented him for doing his job properly.

He said it might serve Japan to allow him to step aside from his role in favour of his son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.

Once considered divine, Japan's emperor is defined in the constitution as a symbol of the "unity of the people" and has no political power.

Akihito is said to feel strongly that an emperor's full performance of his duties is integral to his constitutional role as a symbol of the people's unity, according to monarchy experts.

Opinion polls show the vast majority of ordinary Japanese sympathise with the emperor's desire to retire, but legal changes would be needed to allow him to do so.

The idea has sparked opposition from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative voter base, who worried debate on the imperial family's future could widen to the controversial topic of letting women inherit and pass on the throne - which would be anathema to Japanese traditionalists.

Akihito had been cutting back on official duties recently, his place taken by his crown prince.

Naruhito has only one daughter.

Since only males can inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne, the line of succession after the crown prince fall on his brother Prince Akishino, followed by his nine-year-old nephew Hisahito.

Akihito ascended the throne in 1989 following the death of his father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought the war in the Pacific.

During his reign, Akihito sought to soothe the wounds of that conflict in Asia and tried to bring the monarchy closer to the people.

It was only the second time Akihito had addressed the public in such a fashion - the first being after the massive earthquake, deadly tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit northeast Japan in March 2011.

As scion of the oldest imperial family in the world he is, according to tradition, the 125th direct descendant of Jimmu, Japan's legendary first emperor.

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