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Emperor Akihito Addresses Nation Following Abdication Reports

A Symbol of the State

Following recent reports of his wish to abdicate, Emperor Akihito addressed the Japanese public in a video message broadcast on August 8, 2016. In his message, the second delivered during his reign, the emperor spoke of his role as a symbol of the state and his hopes for that role going forward.

In the pre-recorded 10-minute speech, the emperor talked of how he had spent his days “searching for and contemplating on what is the desirable role of the Emperor, who is designated to be the symbol of the State by the Constitution of Japan.” He also spoke about his health, saying, “I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health. However, 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.”

The emperor’s desire to abdicate, due to concerns over his ability to complete future duties, was apparent in his words: “In coping with the aging of the Emperor, I think it is not possible to continue reducing perpetually the Emperor’s acts in matters of state and his duties as the symbol of the State.”

The emperor also alluded to how the passing of his father, Emperor Shōwa, in 1989 had affected wider society. “When the Emperor has ill health and his condition becomes serious, I am concerned that, as we have seen in the past, society comes to a standstill and people’s lives are impacted in various ways.” He continued, “It occurs to me from time to time to wonder whether it is possible to prevent such a situation.”

Supported by Citizens

As the Imperial House Law currently includes no provisions concerning abdication, the Diet would either have to amend the law or enact special legislation for the emperor to step down. While this appears to be the emperor’s desired outcome, he has refrained from stating so in plain terms. Under Article 4 of the Japanese Constitution, the emperor “shall not have powers related to government.” Consequently, Emperor Akihito did not directly use the word “abdicate,” so as to avoid making a political statement requesting such legislation.

After the video message, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō stated, “We are deeply considering the emperor’s words to the people of Japan.” He added, “While reflecting on his majesty’s concerns, we must give thought to how we can decide the best path forward.”

The Japanese media initially reported on July 13 that Emperor Akihito had expressed a wish to abdicate and relinquish his position to Crown Prince Naruhito, based on information from Imperial Household Agency and other government sources. In today’s video message, the emperor sought to express his thoughts directly to the Japanese people.

Most citizens support the idea of abdication. In a poll conducted by Kyodo News on August 3 and 4, 85.7% of respondents said they would accept the emperor’s abdication, while 89.5% agreed that he has too many official duties.

While Emperor Akihito makes numerous public appearances around Japan over the course of a year, it is unusual for him to express his feelings to the nation as a whole, other than at his birthday press conferences on December 23. Today’s video message was the second given by the emperor; the first was an address broadcast on March 16, 2011, five days after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Based on his desire to share his thoughts with international as well as domestic audiences, the IHA prepared an English translation to accompany the Japanese footage and transcript.

Below we carry the official English translation of Emperor Akihito’s address.

  • [2016.08.08]
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