Emperor worries age may make it tough to perform his duties

Emperor Akihito's video address in Tokyo on Monday afternoon. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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  • 17

    papigiulio

    I feel sorry for him, it sounds more like a cry for help. He mentions his worries because he can't say anything rash or the abe-clan will throw a hissyfit. Just let the poor man retire for the love of god.

    The idea has sparked opposition from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative base, which worries that debate on the imperial family’s future could widen to the topic of letting women inherit and pass on the throne, anathema to traditionalists.

    Pfff of all the issues at hand, THIS they worry about. bah

  • 8

    clamenza

    No doubt the old guy wanted to step down years ago, but from what I understand, the Imperial Household Agency runs the show.

  • 12

    GW

    Set him free he has done more than enough!

  • 15

    Jimizo

    This is part of the the absurdity of a system like this. An 82-year-old cancer survivor with a heart condition should be taking life at his own pace without pressure. It seems that's what he and no doubt his family want. I'm pretty sure his doctor would advise this too.

    It's preposterous and most of all, cruel.

  • 0

    Japan Violet

    Sorry to say that I cannot understand the purpose of his speech. He was appealing for logic that an old man should take the back seat, but who needs convincing of this?

  • 3

    Para Sitius

    Bloody ridiculous situation the man finds himself in, can't abdicate as it would be seen as him dabbling in politics but its those damn politics which are keeping him in place. How can an advanced culture like Japan still have people in power who are stuck in the 19th century?

  • 7

    kawabegawa198

    Let the poor man retire for goodness' sake!

  • 4

    Ah_so

    Akihito stopped short of saying outright that he wanted to abdicate, which could be interpreted as interfering in politics.

    I keep reading this in the press -can anyone explain what this actually means? I hardly see how wishing to resign is interfering in politics.

  • 2

    Schopenhauer

    Emperor said all reasonable things. It contrasted to the hard head bureaucrats and the government that try to adhere to the current law.

  • 3

    sf2k

    Father Time is not going to wait around for Abe to make a decision. Let him step down, soon, no later than the end of the year

  • 1

    Fouxdefa

    A very interesting broadcast. With today's best modern medicine the emperor could possibly live another 10-20 years. The prospect of continuing his duties while knowing he can't perform as well as in younger years must be a heavy one indeed for him to go so far as to make known his "okimochi" in an official message. I also found it most interesting he mentioned the months of ceremonies and functions that would be performed if he were to die in office, and how he worried this would place a heavy burden on those involved and Japanese society in general. Though his point was that all duties of the throne should be fulfilled completely by one fit to do them, it would seem the emperor wants to avoid placing the burden of certain requisite pomps and circumstances on others.

  • 2

    David Varnes

    I keep reading this in the press -can anyone explain what this actually means? I hardly see how wishing to resign is interfering in politics.

    By a technical reading of the law, if the Emperor said he wanted to abdicate, he'd be advocating a political position, as the current law regarding succession does not allow for abdication. So if he says he wants it, he's stating he wants a law changed, which is technically a political statement.

    It's stupid, let the man retire, but that's why.

  • 7

    gokai_wo_maneku

    Did you notice how many times he used the word "symbol", where the emperor is the "symbol" of the unity of the people, his activity as the "symbol" etc? Also, "perserving the constitution". I think he is making a subtle (or not?) jibe against the ultra-rightists who want to restore the Emperor to a position of political/military power, like his father, or change the constitution in any way. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I think that is a key to what he is really trying to say.

  • 2

    fxgai

    The post-war constitution made the emperor subordinate to the state, eliminating even his power to quit. It's a breach of his human rights.

    The good thing is that while the central planners are busying hammering out the necessary constitutional changes to enable the emperor to quit, it'll keep Abe from dabbling in more war mongering for a while, at least. Maybe this is all part of the emperor's cunning plan.

  • 2

    Yubaru

    By a technical reading of the law, if the Emperor said he wanted to abdicate, he'd be advocating a political position, as the current law regarding succession does not allow for abdication.

    There is a difference between not allowing for something, vs there being NOTHING written to allow for it to occur. This is the problem for the politicians and Abe. There is nothing in the law that says he can't abdicate either, as there is no law regarding succession other than the Emperor is the Emperor until deceased. Technically he could walk out the door, he'd still be Emperor, and he wont do it, but technically he could as there is no law stating anything other than succession is decided by death.

    There are a plethora of other problems as well, what would the new era be called? If the Emperor is still living, is it Heisei, or does it change to the new Emperor, and that is huge when it comes to money as well.

    Funniest thing of all is that ALL of it could be taken care of after the fact, if they wanted to and really cared about the Emperor.

  • 3

    notagain

    Let him retire. He's old and sick and forcing him to continue is cruel.

  • 3

    Godfrey King

    I think Emperoro Akihito is a good person and widely thought of as such. Is it not normal to repay goodness with kindness? It would be a very inhuman thing to do to repay it with demanding he leads the rest of his life in a tortuous and painful existance. How is that repaying someone for their years of service so lauded with respect? That's what you do to people you don't like isn't it? He clearly wants to have his burden lifted from him and compassion for one human being to another is the right attitude whatever the 'legal obligations'.

  • 4

    Educator60

    Para Sitious, "How can an advanced culture like Japan still have people in power who are stuck in the 19th century?"

    Ah, but you have it backwards there. In the 19th century it would have been possible for the emperor to abdicate. It is the 20th century, post WWII laws that have no provisions for it.

    I think those who are interpreting the gist of the Emperor's speech as "I'm tired/have had enough/I want to quit/let me oughta here" have missed the direction and intention. That would be a me, me, me situation. But my impression was that, as usual, the Emperir was all about his concern and affection for others, namely the Japanese people and his family.

  • 5

    Tamarama

    He seems like a pragmatic, sensible man this guy. I applaud him. I have been impressed with his efforts to expose the Japanese people to the horrors of WW2 by visiting some of the sites many of them have never heard of, such as Peleliu. I would like to see him try to assert a bit more influence, to be honest. Would like to see him push the conservative's hand more, one way or another.

  • -1

    Joeintokyo

    I agree with the Emperor's decision. It is unseemly of a monarch to depend on Depends in carrying out his official duties.

  • 3

    jasmoran66

    An outdated concept, for sure.

  • -2

    Educator60

    jasmoran66,

    "An outdated concept, for sure."

    What concept are you referring too?

  • 5

    Nessie

    There is nothing in the law that says he can't abdicate either, as there is no law regarding succession other than the Emperor is the Emperor until deceased.

    Well it's not like they can fire him for abdicating.

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    More proof that the Emperor is nothing but an empty symbol to those who proclaim to hold him as a god and important figure: if they truly loved the man himself they would let him go, not keep him in a prison where he isn't even allowed to broadcast his message live for fear that he might say something off-script. Seriously, what century is this? It's unbelievable that they will speak on his behalf, and believe he needs to stay under lock and key as 'Emperor' (loved and respected, right?) until his death, when his life will be mourned... etc. Pathetic!

  • 5

    Dukeleto

    He should wake up tomorrow and tell them all to suck on a toffee and head off on a world cruise for the next year or two. What are they going to do? Lock him up for not "going to work" at the age of 82! I could not think of a more demanding job than that of the Emperor and Empress.

  • -2

    bullfighter

    Bloody ridiculous situation the man finds himself in, can't abdicate as it would be seen as him dabbling in politics but its those damn politics which are keeping him in place. How can an advanced culture like Japan still have people in power who are stuck in the 19th century?

    Your chronology is wrong. A 19th century emperor did in fact abdicate. The Catch 22 situation the current emperor is in dates from 1947 and it was the Americans who set up it up.

  • 2

    talaraedokko

    Abdicate! Politicians are using you for THEIR gain, not Japan's. Enjoy some peace...on your terms. The house has run its course. Time for change.

  • 2

    Dragon Lady

    More proof that the Emperor is nothing but an empty symbol to those who proclaim to hold him as a god and important figure: if they truly loved the man himself they would let him go, not keep him in a prison where he isn't even allowed to broadcast his message live for fear that he might say something off-script. Seriously, what century is this? It's Qaunbelievable that they will speak on his behalf, and believe he needs to stay under lock and key as 'Emperor' (loved and respected, right?) until his death, when his life will be mourned... etc. Pathetic!

    All symbols are intrinsically 'empty' until we attach meaning to them. He was very careful to stress his importance as a 'symbol', cleverly implying that his importance as a human being is very much secondary. It's really not a question of how much love they have for him as a person. He's painfully aware that the IHA really couldn't care less how much he has to suffer and endure as a human being whose raison d'être is to perpetuate the 'idea' of an Imperial Japan, with all that that implies. He's an emperor without an empire and an anachronism for all practical purposes, but sadly there are those who believe that as long as there is an Emperor there is a reminder of empires past and the flicker of hope for empires to come. His father was a war-monger and his grandfather mentally compromised and ineffectual, but they were Emperors and that, as far as the IHA and conservatives are concerned, is all that matters. What century is this? It's the Imperial Century.

  • 2

    daito_hak

    and it was the Americans who set up it up.

    Total non sense. What US and its allies did is to make sure that Japan does not turn again to a country of fanatic emperor lovers who decided one day that invading all Asia was a good idea. I should remind you that this is an overwhelming powerful emperor who brought Japan to a war that had dramatic consequences to Japan population even years after the war ended. So what was decided then is to avoid that a single person which called itself a descendent of God can persuade millions of people to die for him, and the only way to do that was to remove any power from the emperor.

    Then Japan could have simply decided to modernize itself and give up about its constitutional monarchy but instead decided to stay in the past and keep the emperor even as only a symbol of the state. It’s not US or any other country that forced Japan to decide that the emperor can not abdicate, Japan decided this. Japan’s politicians could reverse this decision in one day if they really want it. They could decide that the emperor can abdicate as he should able to do right away if they really want it.

    Instead we are constantly told about this non-sense excuse that the emperor can not interfere in politics. This is silliness, his wish to abdicate has nothing to do with politics. The nationalists own this country and they are not willing to further reduce the image of the emperor by allowing him to abdicate as this would also open many other potential source of reform like allowing a woman to become an emperor. Japan conservatisms and nationalism is responsible for this situation, not US. Get your facts right…

    The Emperor is nothing but an empty symbol to those who proclaim to hold him as a god and important figure

    Exactly. This is right there the total contradiction of the Japanese nationalists and shintoism fanatics. They believe that the emperor and his family are the direct descendants of the sun-goddess Amaterasu or some crazy thing like this but the same emperor with all his great God power can not decide by himself to abdicate. Hummmmm.

  • 2

    Michelle Klein-Hass

    The Present Emperor should be allowed to be the Retired Emperor. If the "traditionalists" truly respected the Emperor his wish would be their command. Then again, his actions of late have been some of his best, beginning with his trips to Tohoku after the 3.11 tragedy. But after all, he's a mortal man, he's feeling his mortality, and he wants to pass his burden to stronger hands.

  • 1

    Para Sitius

    I should have explained myself better, the whole 19th century bit was about those traditionalists who refuse to see an Empress on the throne because heaven forbid a woman could do the job just as well. They obviously haven't been paying attention to how Queen Elizabeth has handled the role of figure head of a country for the last 60+ years.

  • 1

    Black Sabbath

    Man, this is a slow roll out.

  • 3

    wontond

    It's very sad that he can not freely abdicate. Give the guy a break.

  • 1

    Melinda Miller

    There are a plethora of other problems as well, what would the new era be called? If the Emperor is still living, is it Heisei, or does it change to the new Emperor, and that is huge when it comes to money as well.

    The era name changes with the emperor, regardless if the emperor is living or not. There are numerous historical examples of retired emperors in the past, as well as multiple examples of the era name changing under the same emperor. This should not be a difficult problem. Changing it over in a planned, orderly way will probably cut down on the expense of changing the era name, and will certainly cut down on the stress the rank and file workers implementing the change will have to deal with as part of the switch.

  • 2

    wtfjapan

    seems ridiculous that a symbol of the state has no say in his future. Let the guy retire and relax. But this being Japan there will be those in government that will do anything to stick to tradition for the sake of tradition. This will be a good test to see if Japan can actually progress forward culturally into a modern world instead of living in the past.

  • 1

    sf2k

    Moving forward he may be forced to just put his son into roles. What are they going to do, arrest him?

  • 0

    rastasamurai

    Something worth noting. The Emperor must go through very rigorous and physically demanding Shinto prayer and rituals for a good harvest and for protection of the people that begin in Autumn and continue for months until the New Year, all overseen by the Imperial Household Agency. Being Japanese, the Emperor must feel it inappropriate for his son to carry out those duties in place of him as a sesshou (regent) even though he himself still retains the title of Emperor. The last Emperor to abdicate was in 1840, really not that long ago in the grand scheme of history. The ridiculous and unsustainable current system needs to change.

  • 1

    Fadamor

    If you look up "gilded cage" in an encyclopedia, you'll find the accompanying picture has been updated with one of Emperor Akihito as someone who's locked in one.

  • 2

    Yubaru

    In my 25 years in Japan, before tonight I had yet to hear, apart from the right wing idiots, anyone opine about this guy and his place in Japanese society.

    No one talks about his place but everyone respects and loves him as the symbolic head of Japan. To suggest the regular people dont care about him would be way off the mark, they do and they love him very much for all he has done.

    The people want this to happen, and Abe better make sure it does.

  • -2

    bullfighter

    His father was a war-monger

    What US and its allies did is to make sure that Japan does not turn again to a country of fanatic emperor lovers who decided one day that invading all Asia was a good idea. I should remind you that this is an overwhelming powerful emperor who brought Japan to a war that had dramatic consequences to Japan population even years after the war ended.

    I know of only one historian of modern Japan who assigns such a role to the Showa Emperor, Herbert Bix, a former colleague.

    Then Japan could have simply decided to modernize itself and give up about its constitutional monarchy but instead decided to stay in the past and keep the emperor even as only a symbol of the state. It’s not US or any other country that forced Japan to decide that the emperor can not abdicate, Japan decided this. Japan’s politicians could reverse this decision in one day if they really want it.

    Between 1945-1952 Japan was under the total control of the US Occupation and for much of that period all major political decisions were made by Douglas MacArthur. It was Dugout Doug who decided that the Emperor would not be put on trial as a war criminal. It was Dugout Doug who decided that the Emperor would be the symbol of Japan and nothing more. No laws were passed during the Occupation period unless they were acceptable to American authorities.

    The nationalists own this country and they are not willing to further reduce the image of the emperor by allowing him to abdicate as this would also open many other potential source of reform like allowing a woman to become an emperor.

    The nationalists do not own this country. If anything an Emperor who decided his own abdication or who could tell the government “I want legal provision for my abdication and I want it now” would in fact play into the hands of that segment of the hard core right that wants a hands on emperor who can give political commands.

    All of the apparent silliness in the nod nod wink wink that is going on is in my view anti-rightist. If Abe said, “Hey, I got the message. You want to abdicate. We'll get on this tomorrow and have it for you by the end of the week,” a segment of the hard core right would be in hog heaven. They want an emperor who can dictate to elected politicians. They want an emperor who can say “Jump!” and the politicians don't just jump, they say “Was that high enough? If you want more just let us know.”

    Go back and read some of the prewar “fascist” writers. They wanted a hands on emperor, one who didn't even have to ask for legislation. One notable writer Kita Ikki even wanted an emperor who would declare martial law and dictate a comprehensive reform of Japan.

    I find it ironic that so many in this venue who are overtly anti-Abe seem to think a quick response from Abe would be a good thing. Quite the contrary. It would, if he could pull it off, make Abe just that much more of an authoritarian figure, it would marginalize the elected Diet, and it would set a precedent for the PM taking marching orders from the Emperor.

  • -1

    smithinjapan

    bullfighter: "No laws were passed during the Occupation period unless they were acceptable to American authorities."

    So, when it's sex slaves you blame the South Koreans for setting everything up and Japanese just (if you admit they existed at all and the IJA were 'customers') let it happen, but when it comes to the creation of the IHA you literally say "The US occupiers set it all up". Which is it? It's never Japan's fault, is it?

  • 1

    WilliB

    The Imperial Household Agency sounds like a fancy name for a prison guard.

  • 0

    Wallaroo

    If you don’t understand Japanese and/or if you haven’t read LDP’s draft for revising the constitution, it must be really hard to tell the nuances but, actually, Mr. Akihito is repeating the word “the emperor as the symbol of the State” as opposed to “the emperor as the sovereign of the State” number of times in this relatively short statement. It is very obvious that he is trying to do his best in checking the movement of trying to politically exploit the emperor system again. He may be a weakened elder but he has been fighting for modernizing imperial system compatible with democracy, even if, which may sound odd.

    “Even under such circumstances, it is my hope that by thoroughly reflecting on our country’s long history of emperors, the Imperial Family can continue to be with the people at all times and can work together with the people to build the future of our country, and that the duties of the Emperor as the symbol of the State can continue steadily without a break. With this earnest wish, I have decided to make my thoughts known.” He is not worrying about his health but about the discontinuation of what he has been doing: He has been working hard in passing the tradition while adapting it to democracy. Mr. Akihito may sound odd to your ears but I find difficulty in showing respect to him as “an individual.” It’s really ironic that he is much more democratic than the PM is.

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