February 20, 2019
Tokyo--Emperor Akihito's abdication on April 30 and the subsequent accession to the throne of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, grew out of the Emperor's wish for a smooth handover of his role as the symbol of the state.
The Imperial succession, the first from a living Emperor in Japan in 202 years, reflects the rational thinking of the Emperor as a scientist, according to former aides and former classmates.
No to Regency System
On the night of July 22, 2010, Emperor Akihito first expressed his wish to step down, at a meeting attended by Empress Michiko, the grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, the grand chamberlain to the Emperor and advisers to the agency.
Participants suggested use of a regency system, but the Emperor opposed this proposal strongly. The discussion continued late into the night.
Emperor Akihito believes that the regency system was used for Emperor Taisho against his will, according to informed sources. When Emperor Taisho, grandfather of Emperor Akihito, fell ill, his eldest son, Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was named regent to fill his father's role.
Emperor Akihito also called attention to the late years of his mother, Empress Nagako, posthumously Empress Kojun, and said he could not rule out the possibility of suffering health problems due to aging, the sources said.
Advised by aides to take more time to think over the issue, the Emperor said he may as well remain on the throne until the 30th year of Heisei, or 2018, according to the sources.
After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited affected people, including in the hardest-hit three northeastern prefectures, for seven straight weeks.0
The Emperor was admitted to hospital for bronchial pneumonia in autumn 2011 and underwent cardiac bypass surgery in 2012. Although aides advised him to cut back on his public duties, the Emperor consistently rejected these suggestions.
At the same time, he was seriously concerned over the difficulties he might face in the future in carrying out his role as symbol of the state, a former aide revealed.
In a rare video message aired on Aug. 8, 2016, the Emperor signaled his wish to abdicate. "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," he said.
On June 9, 2017, special one-time legislation was enacted to pave the way for the first Imperial abdication in Japan's constitutional politics.
Taking Over Emperor's Wish
To mark his 85th birthday on Dec. 23, 2018, Emperor Akihito held his last news conference before stepping down.
"It gives me deep comfort that the Heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan," he said.
During the 16-minute news conference, the Emperor looked back on his life, shared his feelings about Okinawa Prefecture, southern Japan, which "experienced a long history of hardships" and expressed gratitude to Empress Michiko for her support, his voice sometimes trembling.
"His Majesty's attitudes as the symbol of state were on clear display" in the news conference, a former aide said.
After abdication, Emperor Akihito will be given the title of "joko" in May. He is very keen to avoid "double authority" with the incoming Emperor, according to an Imperial Household Agency official.
Crown Prince Naruhito, who turns 59 on Saturday, said, "I will firmly accept the public duties I am taking over and address each of them with sincerity, just as His Majesty performed his duties as the symbol of the state with his whole being.
All of the duties as symbol of the state that Emperor Akihito has valued highly, such as paying respects for the war dead, visiting disaster victims, paying goodwill visits to foreign countries and engaging in social welfare activities, will be passed on to a new Emperor born after World War II. Jiji Press
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