A government panel has been holding meetings over the possible abdication of Emperor Akihito after he indicated his wish to step down. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the Emperor's official duties.
Question: What are the official duties of the Emperor?
Answer: There are three types of activities for the Emperor. The first one is "state affairs" set under the Constitution, which include inauguration of officials such as the prime minister and Supreme Court chief justices. The second type of service is called "public affairs," which refers to activities including visits to disaster-hit areas and meetings with foreign VIPs. These are not stipulated under the supreme law but the Emperor participates in these events as the symbol of the state. The third one is other affairs, where the Emperor performs ceremonies at the Imperial court. Of these, the Emperor's official duties refer to state and public affairs.
Q: Is the Emperor obliged to take part in these official duties?
A: The Emperor must participate in state affairs. When the Emperor cannot attend such activities due to illness or other reasons, there is a system where other Imperial Family members serve as his substitute or regent. For public affairs, on the other hand, the Emperor can decide not to participate after considering whether the event is necessary based on its meaning and contents or expectations from the people.
Q: How many public affairs activities does an emperor participate in?
A: In 1983, when Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was 82 years old -- Emperor Akihito's current age, he took part in 344 public affairs activities. Emperor Akihito, on the other hand, participated in 529 such events in 2015. While some argue that the number of public affairs activities has increased because of Emperor Akihito's wish to visit war memorials outside of Japan, in such places as Saipan of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Philippines, the Imperial Household Agency attributes the increasing number of natural disasters in recent years and a large number of foreign ambassadors to Japan as reasons for the Emperor's busy schedule. (Answers by Yusuke Tanabe, Hanshin Bureau)