Emperor Akihito began to consider abdicating after traces of bleeding were found in his stomach eight years ago, a source close to the Imperial Household Agency said.
The traces were found in an endoscopic examination the Emperor underwent on Dec. 5, 2008. Doctors who conducted the test said the bleeding was caused by mental stress, prompting the agency to decide the following month to reduce the burden of the Emperor's official duties.
Specifically, the agency decided that the Emperor would not deliver a speech during the opening ceremony of the annual national athletic meet and some other events.
However, the Emperor, who firmly believes that his position as the symbol of the State and his activities are inseparable, was reportedly reluctant to have his official duties reduced.
The source recalls that the Emperor "began to wonder whether he could remain in his position as the Emperor if he became unable to fulfill his duties."
Emperor Akihito began reviewing examples of the abdication of past emperors and the royal systems of other countries. In particular, the Emperor became interested in abdication systems in Europe. He also studied a regency system.
His father Emperor Showa served as a regent for ailing Emperor Taisho when Emperor Showa was crown prince. Emperor Akihito read documents about his father serving as a regent.
Emperor Akihito began several years ago to consult with his aides over how he should think about his official duties if it were to become difficult for him to carry out his duties as the symbol of the State.
The Emperor had intended to express his feelings about his position and official duties as the symbol of the State at a news conference in December last year on the occasion of his birthday, but it was postponed due to preparations to visit the Philippines.
After the turn of the year, the Imperial Household Agency began to consider having the Emperor express his feelings in July or August.
When it was reported on July 13 that the Emperor had expressed his wish to abdicate, the Imperial Household Agency categorically denied the reports.
However, after the agency released the Emperor's video message on Aug. 8, the agency began to provide a detailed explanation of the Emperor's thoughts.
A news conference that agency chief Noriyuki Kazaoka held immediately after the release of the video message lasted for about 50 minutes.
"At a certain stage, we began consulting with the Cabinet Secretariat over the issue because we needed to ensure that the content of His Majesty's message is based on his position defined by the Constitution," Kazaoka told the news conference.
"Her Majesty the Empress watched over the filming of the message from nearby to avoid adversely affecting the recording," Kazaoka said.
The grand steward of the agency also expressed hope that the public will understand the Emperor's concerns.
"I felt His Majesty's serious strain when I learned that he's been worried that it could be difficult for him to fulfill his duties due to a decline in his fitness level because of his advancing age. The Imperial Household Agency hopes that His Majesty's thoughts will be understood by the people," he said.
It is an unwritten rule that the Imperial Household Agency cannot speak on behalf of the Emperor. Nevertheless, Kazaoka dared to emphasize the serious strain of the Emperor.
He was quick to add that he does not know what the Cabinet Secretariat will do in response to the Emperor's expression of his thoughts.
Commenting on Kazaoka's news conference, a retired official of the agency said, "It's the government's task to consider when and how to begin considering allowing the Emperor to abdicate. The Imperial Household Agency has done what it was supposed to do. It (the grand steward's news conference) was the most effective appeal to the public on a day when it was easy to draw public attention."