Japanese Emperor Akihito delivered rare public remarks Monday, Aug. 8 in a video message discussing his declining health and the future of the Imperial household. Below is the official translation of his full remarks, as provided on the Imperial Household Agency website （日本語は下）:
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“A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei.
“As I am now more than 80 years old and there are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness, in the last few years I have started to reflect on my years as the Emperor, and contemplate on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come.
“As we are in the midst of a rapidly aging society, I would like to talk to you today about what would be a desirable role of the Emperor in a time when the Emperor, too, becomes advanced in age. While, being in the position of the Emperor, I must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing Imperial system, I would like to tell you what I, as an individual, have been thinking about.
“Ever since my accession to the throne, I have carried out the acts of the Emperor in matters of state, and at the same time I have spent my 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. As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition. At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese Imperial Family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.
“It was some years ago, after my two surgeries that I began to feel a decline in my fitness level because of my advancing age, and I started to think about the pending future, how I should conduct myself should it become difficult for me to carry out my heavy duties in the way I have been doing, and what would be best for the country, for the people, and also for the Imperial Family members who will follow after me. 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.
“I ascended to the throne approximately 28 years ago, and during these years, I have spent my days together with the people of Japan, sharing much of the joys as well as the sorrows that have happened in our country. I have considered that the first and foremost duty of the Emperor is to pray for peace and happiness of all the people. At the same time, I also believe that in some cases it is essential to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts. In order to carry out the duties of the Emperor as the symbol of the State and as a symbol of the unity of the people, the Emperor needs to seek from the people their understanding on the role of the symbol of the State. I think that likewise, there is need for the Emperor to have a deep awareness of his own role as the Emperor, deep understanding of the people, and willingness to nurture within himself the awareness of being with the people. In this regard, I have felt that my travels to various places throughout Japan, in particular, to remote places and islands, are important acts of the Emperor as the symbol of the State and I have carried them out in that spirit. In my travels throughout the country, which I have made together with the Empress, including the time when I was Crown Prince, I was made aware that wherever I went there were thousands of citizens who love their local community and with quiet dedication continue to support their community. With this awareness I was able to carry out the most important duties of the Emperor, to always think of the people and pray for the people, with deep respect and love for the people. That, I feel, has been a great blessing.
“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. A Regency may be established to act in the place of the Emperor when the Emperor cannot fulfill his duties for reasons such as he is not yet of age or he is seriously ill. Even in such cases, however, it does not change the fact that the Emperor continues to be the Emperor till the end of his life, even though he is unable to fully carry out his duties as the Emperor.
“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. The practice in the Imperial Family has been that the death of the Emperor called for events of heavy mourning, continuing every day for two months, followed by funeral events which continue for one year. These various events occur simultaneously with events related to the new era, placing a very heavy strain on those involved in the events, in particular, the family left behind. It occurs to me from time to time to wonder whether it is possible to prevent such a situation.
“As I said in the beginning, under the Constitution, the Emperor does not have powers related to government. 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.
“I sincerely hope for your understanding.”
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即位以来，私は国事行為を行うと共に，日本国憲法下で象徴と位置づけられた天皇の望ましい在り方を，日々模索しつつ過ごし て来ました。伝統の継承者として，これを守り続ける責任に深く思いを致し，更に日々新たになる日本と世界の中にあって，日本の皇室が，いかに伝統を現代に 生かし，いきいきとして社会に内在し，人々の期待に応えていくかを考えつつ，今日に至っています。
そのような中，何年か前のことになりますが，2度の外科手術を受け，加えて高齢による体力の低下を覚えるようになった頃か ら，これから先，従来のように重い務めを果たすことが困難になった場合，どのように身を処していくことが，国にとり，国民にとり，また，私のあとを歩む皇 族にとり良いことであるかにつき，考えるようになりました。既に80を越え，幸いに健康であるとは申せ，次第に進む身体の衰えを考慮する時，これまでのよ うに，全身全霊をもって象徴の務めを果たしていくことが，難しくなるのではないかと案じています。
私が天皇の位についてから，ほぼ28年，この間私 は，我が国における多くの喜びの時，また悲しみの時を，人々と共に過ごして来ました。私はこれまで天皇の務めとして，何よりもまず国民の安寧と幸せを祈る ことを大切に考えて来ましたが，同時に事にあたっては，時として人々の傍らに立ち，その声に耳を傾け，思いに寄り添うことも大切なことと考えて来ました。 天皇が象徴であると共に，国民統合の象徴としての役割を果たすためには，天皇が国民に，天皇という象徴の立場への理解を求めると共に，天皇もまた，自らの ありように深く心し，国民に対する理解を深め，常に国民と共にある自覚を自らの内に育てる必要を感じて来ました。こうした意味において，日本の各地，とり わけ遠隔の地や島々への旅も，私は天皇の象徴的行為として，大切なものと感じて来ました。皇太子の時代も含め，これまで私が皇后と共に行って来たほぼ全国に及ぶ旅は，国内のどこにおいても，その地域を愛し，その共同体を地道に支える市井の人々のあることを私に認識させ，私がこの認識をもって，天皇として大切な，国民を思い，国民のために祈るという務めを，人々への深い信頼と敬愛をもってなし得たことは，幸せなことでした。
天皇の高齢化に伴う対処の仕方が，国事行為や，その象徴としての行為を限りなく縮小していくことには，無理があろうと思わ れます。また，天皇が未成年であったり，重病などによりその機能を果たし得なくなった場合には，天皇の行為を代行する摂政を置くことも考えられます。しか し，この場合も，天皇が十分にその立場に求められる務めを果たせぬまま，生涯の終わりに至るまで天皇であり続けることに変わりはありません。
天皇が健康を損ない，深刻な状態に立ち至った場合，これまでにも見られたように，社会が停滞し，国民の暮らしにも様々な影響が及ぶことが懸念されます。更にこれまでの皇室のしきたりとして，天皇の終焉に当たっては，重い殯の行事が連日ほぼ2ヶ月にわたって続き，その後喪儀に 関連する行事が，1年間続きます。その様々な行事と，新時代に関わる諸行事が同時に進行することから，行事に関わる人々，とりわけ残される家族は，非常に 厳しい状況下に置かれざるを得ません。こうした事態を避けることは出来ないものだろうかとの思いが，胸に去来することもあります。
始めにも述べましたように，憲法の下， 天皇は国政に関する権能を有しません。そうした中で，このたび我が国の長い天皇の歴史を改めて振り返りつつ，これからも皇室がどのような時にも国民と共に あり，相たずさえてこの国の未来を築いていけるよう，そして象徴天皇の務めが常に途切れることなく，安定的に続いていくことをひとえに念じ，ここに私の気 持ちをお話しいたしました。