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July 14, 2016

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Japan’s Akihito plans to abdicate ‘in a few years’

JAPANESE Emperor Akihito, who has spent much of his time on the throne trying to heal the wounds of World War II, intends to abdicate in a few years, public broadcaster NHK and other domestic media said yesterday, a step that would be unprecedented in modern Japan.

The 82-year-old monarch, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer in recent years, expressed his intention to the Imperial Household Agency, NHK said.

Kyodo news agency, quoting a government source, said Akihito had been expressing his intention to abdicate to people around him for about a year, although in a separate report Kyodo quoted a senior Imperial Household Agency official as denying the reports.

Akihito has been cutting back on his official duties, handing over some of the burden to heir, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56.

Born in 1933, Akihito was heir to Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought WWII.

Akihito marked the 70th anniversary of WWII’s end last year with an expression of “deep remorse,” a departure from his previous remarks seen by some as an effort to cement a legacy of pacifism under threat from Japanese nationalists.

“Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war,” he said.

Akihito has sought to deepen Japan’s ties with the world through visits abroad. In 1992 he became the first Japanese monarch in living memory to visit China, where bitter memories of Japan’s past military aggression run deep.

Emperor Kokaku was the last Japanese emperor to abdicate — 1817, NHK said.

Miiko Kodama, a professor emeritus at Musashi University, said the Imperial Household Law would need to be amended to allow Akihito to step down, a process that could take time and debate in parliament.

A scientist by avocation, Akihito is the first royal heir to have married a commoner, Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.

Under the US-drafted, postwar constitution, Japan’s emperor is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People,” with no political power.

Akihito’s bid to draw the imperial family closer to the people in image, if not in fact, has played into a carefully crafted picture of a “middle-class monarchy” that has helped shield it from the harsh criticism suffered by flashier royals abroad.


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