The Japanese Emperor To Step Down

The Japanese Emperor Akihito, who has spent much of his time on the throne trying to heal the wounds of the second world war, intends to abdicate in a few years’ time, public broadcaster NHK has reported, a step that would be unprecedented in modern Japan.

The 82-year-old monarch, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer in recent years, expressed his intention to the Imperial Household Agency, NHK said.

Kyodo news agency, quoting a government source, said Akihito had been expressing his intention to abdicate to people around him for about a year, although in a separate report Kyodo quoted a senior official of the Imperial Household Agency denying that the reports were correct.Akihito has been cutting back on his official duties, handing over some of the burden to his heir, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56. Born in 1933, Akihito was heir to Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought the second world war.

“Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war,” he said.

“He cares a great deal about war issues and reconciliation [with Asian countries]. Naruhito has made clear that he will carry on with that,” Nakano added.

Akihito has sought to deepen Japan’s ties with the world through visits abroad. In 1992 he became the first Japanese monarch in living memory to visit China, where bitter memories of Japan’s past military aggression run deep.

Emperor Kokaku, who gave up the throne in 1817, was the last Japanese emperor to abdicate, NHK said.

Miiko Kodama, a professor emeritus at Musashi University, said the Imperial Household Law would need to be amended to allow Akihito to step down, a process that could take time and debate in parliament.

Akihito’s efforts to draw the imperial family closer to the people in image, if not in fact, have played into a carefully crafted picture of a “middle-class monarchy” that has helped to shield it from the harsh criticism suffered by flashier royals abroad.