TOKYO – Japan’s Emperor Akihito will issue a rare video message to the public Monday amid speculation he wants to abdicate in the coming years.
Akihito in his recorded message will convey his thoughts about his official duties as a symbol, his status stipulated by the constitution, an Imperial Household Agency official said Friday on condition of anonymity, citing sensitivity of the issue.
Akihito is expected to avoid explicit reference to abdication, a step not written in imperial law and that would require a legal process he cannot request.
The video would be only the second message Akihito has delivered to the public in his life, the first one expressing sympathy and support for survivors days after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.
The possibility of abdication surprised many Japanese last month when NHK public television reported that Akihito had expressed his intention to do so in the next few years.
At 82, Akihito still performs public duties including attending ceremonies, receiving foreign dignitaries and traveling in and out of Japan. In recent years, Akihito has mentioned his old age, citing small mistakes he made at ceremonies. The NHK report, which cited anonymous sources, said he did not want to cling to the title if he was unable to carry out its responsibilities.
Crown Prince Naruhito, the older of the emperor’s two sons, is his most likely successor.
Akihito ascended to the throne in 1989 after the death of his father, Hirohito, who was considered a deity until Japan’s defeat in the World War II, fought in the name of the emperor.
Akihito brought the cloistered imperial family closer to the public and broke with other traditions, including his marriage to a commoner.
Akihito has repeatedly said he respects Japan’s postwar pacifist constitution and is committed to his status as the symbol and the unity of the people, not the sovereign.
According to the traditional count, Akihito is 125th in a line of emperors that began in 660 B.C., making it the oldest surviving hereditary monarchy.