Emperor Akihito has expressed his intention to abdicate, making way for his son Crown Prince Naruhito to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne, a government source has disclosed.
The Emperor conveyed his intention to a person close to the Imperial Household Agency, according to the government source. He is said to have expressed his intention to abdicate within several years.
The Imperial Household Agency is making arrangements for the Emperor to publicly express his intention in the near future. As the Imperial House Law does not contain stipulations on the Emperor's abdication, discussion will likely begin over revisions to the legislation.
Emperor Akihito, 82, is Japan's 125th emperor. After undergoing heart surgery in February 2012, he had his official duties reduced, including Imperial rituals. However, he has continued to perform numerous duties, including matters of state as stipulated in the Constitution, visiting areas affected by earthquakes and other disasters, and meeting with foreign heads of state.
According to informed sources, the Emperor does not wish to have his duties drastically reduced, nor remain in his position while leaving his duties to a substitute. He also believes that a person who can sufficiently perform his duties as a symbol of the state as stipulated in the Constitution should remain on the Chrysanthemum Throne. The Emperor is said to have conveyed his intentions to Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino.
Emperor Akihito ascended the throne in 1989 as the first emperor to do so under the post-World War II Constitution, which stipulates that "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." During a press conference marking his ascension to the throne, which he attended with Empress Michiko, Emperor Akihito said, "I want to fulfill my duties as Emperor that are laid out in the Constitution to work for the happiness of the people and to have a monarchy that is fitting for the present age."
He has continually pursued ways to carry out his role as the symbol of the state including visits to facilities for disabled people and areas affected by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and other disasters.
At a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of his ascension to the throne, he said, "It is our important duty to empathize with disabled and elderly people, those affected by disasters, as well as those who dedicate themselves to society and the people."
The Imperial Household Agency has pursued ways to reduce the burden on Emperor Akihito as he has grown older. The agency announced in January 2009 that the Emperor would stop issuing statements in a large number of ceremonies after he developed a heartbeat irregularity, and suffered other illnesses apparently caused by mental stress in December 2008.
The Emperor underwent coronary-artery bypass surgery in February 2012. Nevertheless, he attended memorial services for victims of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami held shortly afterwards. At a news conference prior to his 79th birthday, Emperor Akihito said he wanted to stay active for the time being.
At the same time, the Emperor has begun to hand over some duties to Crown Prince Naruhito. His last visits to facilities as part of his official duties were in 2014, on the occasions of Children's Day and Respect-for-the-Aged Day. In May this year, the agency further reviewed Emperor Akihito's official duties, cancelling eight planned meetings with the heads of national and local governments.
It was not unheard-of among the past 124 emperors to abdicate and hand over the Imperial throne to their successors while they were alive, according to the Imperial Household Agency. The last emperor to do so, however, was Emperor Kokaku, who was on the throne from 1780 to 1817 during the late Edo Period.
In royal families in European countries, it is not unusual for the monarch to hand over his or her throne to a successor. In 2013, then Netherlands Queen Beatrix, who has friendly relations with the Japanese Imperial Family, and Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, drawing worldwide attention.