TOKYO » Japanese Emperor Akihito has expressed his intention to step down in the coming years, broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday, citing unnamed government sources.
Such a move is unprecedented in modern Japan as the last succession from a living emperor took place about 200 years ago.
The 82-year-old emperor, who is in declining health, has conveyed his intention to the Imperial Household Agency and already informed his family members, NHK reported, citing agency officials.
The emperor said he wants to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, before becoming too frail to carry out his duties fully, NHK reported.
The agency is planning an occasion for him to address the public, the report said.
Later Wednesday, the Imperial Household Agency’s vice grand steward, Shinichiro Yamamoto, denied that the emperor was ready to abdicate, telling Kyodo News agency, “I know there are media reports about this, but it is definitely not true.”
The emperor does not have a health problem requiring him to abdicate immediately, Kyodo reported earlier, citing an unnamed government source.
The emperor has been telling people around him for about a year about his intention to step down, Kyodo said.
Akihito, who ascended the throne in 1989 after the death of his father, Hirohito, underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and suffered stress-related health problems in 2008.
In 2011, the emperor was hospitalized for more than two weeks with bronchitis. He underwent heart bypass surgery in 2012.
Despite such health issues and his age, the emperor has kept up with a demanding schedule, meeting visiting foreign dignitaries and travelling to disaster-stricken regions with Empress Michiko.
Five days after an earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, which triggered the country’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011, the emperor made an unprecedented televised address to the public.
“The number of casualties claimed by the quake and the ensuing tsunami continues to rise by the day … I am praying that the safety of as many people as possible will be confirmed,” the emperor said.
“My other grave concern now is the serious and unpredictable condition of the affected nuclear power plant. I earnestly hope that through the all-out efforts of all those concerned, further deterioration of the situation will be averted,” he said.
Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to visit China in 1992. The couple made a trip to Saipan in 2005 and Palau in 2015 for the 60th and 70th anniversaries of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
In January, they visited the Philippines to pay tribute to the war dead with this year marking the 60th anniversary of the normalization of the two countries’ diplomatic relations.
During World War II, “fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured,” the emperor said in Manila.
“This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit,” he emphasized.