On August 8, Japanese Emperor Akihito released a video message to the public. It was only the second time that he has done so since he was crowned in 1989—the first was in 2011, when his aim was to console and encourage the people in the aftermath of the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese Emperor is not allowed to intervene or to express his views about politics, and so he avoided the use of direct phrases in the video. However, he hinted that he wishes to abdicate and expressed hope that the government and public will begin a discussion so “the Emperor as the symbol of the State can continue steadily without a break.”
Emperor Akihito was the first Emperor who took his position as a normal person. He married a commoner, Empress Michiko, and their three children would be raised by the imperial couple themselves, not by nannies. These were all against the traditions of the Imperial Family. Furthermore, he has eagerly visited and encouraged people all over Japan. The image is imprinted on peoples’ minds from when he visited shelters housing the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and kneeled down to look into their eyes and encourage those who were suffering.
The schedule of the Emperor is really tight, but Emperor Akihito has devoted himself to fulfilling his duties. The majority of the Japanese public understood the meaning of the Emperor’s remarks, when he said that he worries about not being able to carry out his duties because of aging, and wishes to transfer the crown. An ordinary worker can retire in his 60s, so why is the 82-year-old Emperor, who has sincerely served the nation, not allowed to lighten his burden? Most of the Japanese public think that the government should work to grant the Emperor’s wishes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would consider the Emperor’s message seriously.
New legislation regarding the Imperial Family will be necessary if the government decides to grant the Emperor’s wishes.
However, there are also different, more cautious views. Some constitutional scholars claim that Japan should not assign the highest priority to the Emperor’s feelings, but instead to the function of the Emperor as the symbol of the State and his appropriate duties. Some conservatives worry about the reemergence of a controversy over a female Emperor, which subsided after the birth of Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Fumihito (the younger brother of the Crown Prince) and Princess Kiko.
Regardless, new legislation regarding the Imperial Family will be necessary if the government decides to grant the Emperor’s wishes. So far, the Japanese political parties and media have maintained a calm and restrained attitude on this issue. Among the Japanese public, there are a variety of opinions, perspectives, philosophies, and beliefs about what we seek from the Emperor. This issue is deeply related to the Japanese political system and tradition, so we as a people need to have a profound discussion on the matter before reaching a decision. Still, time may be running out, so we can’t afford to wait long before acting.