Japan's Emperor Akihito is hinting that he wants to abdicate after nearly three decades on the throne.
In a rare video address to the Japanese public, the 82-year-old said he feared his deteriorating health is preventing him from carrying out his duties. However, he did not use the word "abdicate" — something Japanese laws do not allow the emperor to do. The last time an emperor abdicated the throne in Japan was 1817.
"There are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness," Akihito explains in the 10-minute pre-recorded video. "In the last few years, I have started to reflect on my time as the emperor and contemplate my role and my duties in the days to come."
The only other time he spoke to the nation this way was after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Akihito has been cutting back on his public duties, which are entirely symbolic, including welcoming foreign dignitaries, performing religious ceremonies, and presenting awards to Japanese citizens. According to the post-war constitution, the Japanese emperor cannot interfere with how the country is governed. Akihito has also been treated for prostate cancer and had surgery on his heart.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that his government will take the emperor's remarks seriously. "I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling, and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do," he said.
But Abe's right-wing supporters are not in favor of letting Akihito abdicate, out of step with the majority of the Japanese public, who would support his decision. Allowing him to step down would require the government to craft new laws, a complicated and lengthy process. As it is, only males can inherit the throne, and opening the issue up to debate could change that, something nationalists do not want.
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