The former Imperial Household Agency grand steward officially told the prime minister's office in the fall of 2015 about Emperor Akihito's desire to abdicate, it has been learned.
Then agency Grand Steward Noriyuki Kazaoka presented Emperor Akihito's draft speech to the prime minister's office and suggested that the Emperor announce his wish at a news conference on the occasion of his birthday on Dec. 23 that year. However, the Emperor did not deliver the speech that had been prepared, as arrangements with the prime minister's office were not made beforehand.
The draft was written on the assumption that it would be made to the public. It included Emperor Akihito's thoughts on his duties as the symbol of the state, indicated his belief that these duties can only be performed by an emperor, and that he intends to retire when he can no longer perform them. The draft also included Emperor Akihito's opinion that regents cannot substitute for the emperor.
The Imperial Household Agency had presented a separate draft for Emperor Akihito's speech to a meeting of advisors and other officials in April 2015, but the document was more of a list of points rather than a speech text. The agency at the time did not tell the prime minister's office about Emperor Akihito's thoughts on possible abdication.
Emperor Akihito told a meeting with his aides in July 2010 that he would fulfill his duties as emperor until the age of 80, suggesting his wish to pass down the throne. At a news conference on the occasion of his 81st birthday in December 2014, he did not mention continuing to perform official duties, a passage that had been included until the previous year. A senior agency official says that was because the level of urgency had increased due to Emperor Akihito's age. The agency subsequently started considering ideas for a draft of an abdication speech in 2015 and presented it to the prime minister's office in the fall, after security legislation was passed by the Diet.
With regard to the exclusion of Emperor Akihito's abdication wish in the December 2015 message, the Imperial Household Agency explains that it was the state of the prime minister's office at the time that did not allow such an announcement, saying that the agency had no problem with the Emperor's thoughts on abdication being delivered to the public at that time. It is believed that the government's plan for a possible double election for both houses of the Diet in the summer of 2016 worked against the agency's intentions.
Meanwhile, on the fact that there had been little progress in the years since Emperor Akihito told his aides about possible abdication, a source close to the government's expert panel on abdication issues criticizes the Imperial Household Agency, saying, "The agency failed to deliver the Emperor's message (to the prime minister's office). His Majesty had been sending SOS signs, but politics failed to respond."
A source related to the Cabinet Legislation Bureau has revealed that the Imperial Household Agency had consulted with the bureau behind the scenes before the agency presented the speech draft to the prime minister's office. In typical cases, the agency first contacts the prime minister's office, which then consults with the legislation bureau. The official points out that the agency might have hesitated to table the issue directly with the prime minister's office out of concern that it would be dismissed by supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
When the debate over allowing female members of the Imperial Family to succeed to the throne and matrilineal succession was held under the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, related officials of the Imperial Household Agency and the prime minister's office had unofficial meetings, but that was not the case this time.
The conservative camp that supports Prime Minister Abe is against female or matrilineal succession, and many of his supporters have been arguing against Emperor Akihito's abdication. A senior official of the Imperial Household Agency tells the Mainichi Shimbun, "The situations are different with Prime Minister Koizumi and Prime Minister Abe," suggesting the Abe administration's influence on the agency's actions regarding Emperor Akihito's wish to retire.