Emperor Akihito will make a video address to the nation tomorrow, the Imperial Household Agency announced, amid media reports that the 82-year-old monarch wants to abdicate.
Public broadcaster NHK reported last month that the emperor, who has had heart surgery and been treated for prostate cancer, had expressed his intention to abdicate in a few years.
Ordinary Japanese sympathise with Akihito’s desire to retire, but Japan currently has no legal provision for abdication.
The idea faces stiff opposition from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative base, who worry abdication will trigger debate about allowing a woman to become emperor.
“I think the Japanese people want to allow the emperor to abdicate,” said Miiko Kodama, a professor emeritus at Musashi University.
“However, it would be unfortunate for the Crown Prince if he takes the throne because the people do not have the same emotional response to him as they do to the Emperor.”
The video address will be aired at 3pm (0600 GMT), said the Imperial Household Agency, the government department responsible for imperial matters.
Akihito has been cutting back on official duties recently, his place taken by his heir, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.
Conservatives have raised objections to changing the law to let Akihito step down.
Some worry that if the government even starts debate on changing the law, some liberal politicians will take that as an opportunity to push for women to be allowed to become emperor or other reforms.
Naruhito has only one daughter.
Since only males can inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne, the throne after Naruhito would pass to his brother, Prince Akishino, and then to nine-year-old nephew Hisahito.
Before Hisahito’s birth, no male had been born into the imperial family for more than four decades.
This prompted discussion of equal inheritance for women, a move opposed by traditionalists eager to preserve a male line they believe goes back more than 2,000 years.
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