Emperor Akihito Prompts Speculation That He May Abdicate
In a rare televised address the Japanese Emperor, Akihito, has prompted worldwide speculation about his future. The Emperor, 82, broadcast comments about his deteriorating health. This has led to some observers questioning if he intends to step down: something that is not currently permissible in the Japanese constitution.
The role of Emperor in modern Japan is largely ceremonial. Constitutional changes after the Second world War forbid the Emperor from interfering with politics and turned the role into one of figurehead. Prior to this, Japanese Emperors were considered to be divine.
Emperor Akihito’s health has been in decline for some time. He has had heart surgery and has been treated for prostrate cancer. His televised comments noted that it was hard for him to complete the tasks associated with his position as Emperor due to his health.
This has prompted speculation that Akihito intends to abdicate, though he himself has not gone as far as saying that:
When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being, as I have done until now. Emperor Akihito. 8th August 2016
Constitutionally there are a number of issues that need to be considered. First is the desire of the Emperor to fulfil roles fully. He views this as a duty and it is believed that retirement would be a preferred option to enable this to be done.
The constitution does not allow such changes though. They were removed as part of the constitution that followed the Second World War. Any alterations to this consitution would need to be carefully managed both for the international community but also to consider the variety of opinions within Japan.
Many in Japan, according to opinion polls, sympathise with the ageing Emperor’s needs. A relatively minor change to the constitution would enable an abdication on health grounds without interfering in political affairs. However for traditionalists this may be a step too far. The position of the Emperor remains hugely important to them and an act of abdication may lead to changes in laws relating to issues such as inheritance.