Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he will give careful consideration to a video message by 82-year-old Emperor Akihito indicating the emperor’s readiness to abdicate due to his age.
“On the nature of the emperor’s official duties, in view of his age and the state of the burden his duties places upon him, I think we must give thought to the strain on the emperor and thoroughly consider what we can do,” Abe said.
The emperor released the video message to the public Monday following media reports several weeks ago suggesting he is considering abdication.
In the message, the emperor voiced concern he could one day become unable to fulfill his role as the symbol of the state, citing his perception of a decline in his physical fitness as he has grown older.
The last emperor to abdicate was Emperor Kokaku in 1817.
Under the Japanese Constitution, the emperor is a symbol of the state, and succession to the imperial throne is determined by the Imperial House Law. The 1947 law contains no provisions for the abdication of a living emperor.
The Constitution prohibits the emperor himself from having powers related to government.
“The emperor’s words are not remarks that would exert an influence on the government, so I do not feel they present any issue related to the Constitution,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference following the release of the message.
Parliamentary chiefs also issued statements as any alteration of the law would require Diet deliberation.
“We hope that discussion of the nature of the imperial family will take place across every level of society from now on and that Diet lawmakers will act responsibly in taking that discussion into account,” House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima said in his statement.
Government and political heavyweights offered a range of responses to the video message following its release.
Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi said the emperor’s resolve to perform his duties to the fullest for as long as he remains emperor should be “regarded as a welcome and venerable thing.”
“I think (the emperor) felt a strong sense of responsibility in saying those words,” Takaichi said.
“We must realize that Japanese people far and wide will feel an affinity with the (emperor’s) words,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters.
Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, said it is important that forthcoming debate over the emperor’s role and duties be carried out “calmly” in the Diet.
“If the debate is too wide-ranging, it could fall out of line with the drift of the (emperor’s) message,” Okada said.
“I think the emperor spoke in sufficient accord with his role as prescribed in the Constitution,” he added.
Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii said abdication “needs to be considered” and it is the responsibility of Japan’s politicians to do so.