Japanese emperor hints at wanting to abdicate in speech

Japanese Emperor Akihito, during a rare televised address on Monday, expressed his fears about not being able to fulfill his emperor duties if his health worsens and hinted at wanting to step down as emperor.

Over the years, Akihito, who is 82, has had to undergo heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, factors that have contributed to his decline in fitness and increased speculation about a rare abdication.

“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,” Akihito said in his speech.

Akihito’s announcement was seen as a plea that he be allowed to step down, something which is not currently allowed under Japanese law, which requires emperors to serve until death. The constitution says that if the emperor becomes debilitated, his successor may take the responsibility of regent.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the emperor’s message by saying that he will think seriously about what can be done, according to CNN.

Monday’s speech marked the third time that a Japanese emperor has spoken to the public through television or radio. The first time occurred when Emperor Hirohito announced by radio that Japan had lost World War II. The second time occurred when current Emperor Akihito addressed the nation on television after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Akihito is Japan's 125th emperor. Records show that no emperor has voluntarily stepped down from the throne in nearly 200 years. Next in line for the throne is Akihito’s eldest son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito.

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