Emperor Akihito: Japan’s 82-Year-Old Long-Time Ruler Wants To Retire, But Will The Nation Allow It?

Japan’s current ruler, Emperor Akihito, seems to be asking for a rather normal privilege that is granted to many hard working people. The 82-year-old simply wants to retire from his position, yet the question remains as to whether the nation’s elected leaders will allow it.

As the New York Times shares, a televised address on Monday involved the emperor speaking directly to the Japanese people for the first time. Akihito, although not entirely clear about his plans, discussed his age and his busy schedule that is quite rigorous for an octogenarian. Akihito also noted that his physical abilities were declining which means he has to limit his activities as he ages. Although the emperor did not specifically say he wants to retire, the message managed to convey his intentions.

The publication shared the words of Emperor Akihito’s public address that was broadcast on multiple television networks.

“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.”

If the emperor retired, it could mean redefining the roles of the entire Japanese royal family, which is the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. The change in power could also raise the debate about women being allowed to occupy the throne. Currently, the emperor is only a symbolic power, yet a change could stir up controversy.

Akihito, who suffers from heart problems and is being treated for cancer, wishes to pass along the title to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, who is 56-years-old. As the Times reported, Naruhito has a similar quiet demeanor to his father and would continue the reign in a similar manner.

The controversy that is posed by the emperor’s request to abdicate the throne, all comes down to the fact that by law in Japan, an emperor must rule until his death. Therefore, Akihito’s wish may result in the need for a change in a culturally sensitive area of Japanese law. The NY Times shares additional details about the history of the throne.

” Parliament would have to change the law for Akihito to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne, which has been held by his family for almost 2,700 years, according to the official genealogy. Japanese emperors define eras in the country. Its unique calendar is based on their reigns: 2016 is expressed as Akihito’s 28th year on the throne, and when his successor takes over, the date will reset to Year One.”

The emperor’s father died in 1989, which was the 64th year of his reign following the Cold War and boom for the Japanese economy. The monarch in Japanese culture is expected to separate himself from politics, which is the reason that Akihito had to make his request in an extremely vague and indirect manner.

If the Japanese government does allow a new law, and thereby, the opportunity for the emperor to vacate the throne for his son, this would be a major historical shift for Japan, rivaled only by the modernization of the nation after World War II.

Takeshi Hara, an expert on the Japanese royal family and formalities, spoke on the matter, noting that the law which states an emperor must rule until death has not always been in place. It has only been since the 19th century that this became the norm.

“Historically, it was extremely common for emperors to abdicate,”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the emperor’s words and request.

“Considering His Majesty’s age, the burden of his official duties and his anxieties, we must think carefully about what can be done.”

[Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images]