Japanese Emperor to express thoughts to public on possible abdication

The Imperial Household Agency is arranging an occasion for the Emperor to express his thoughts to the public sometime in August in light of a series of reports earlier this month that he intends to abdicate the throne, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The agency had denied such reports but apparently considers it necessary to create an opportunity for the Emperor to directly explain to the public about the issue because it concerns the foundation of the system that recognises the Emperor as the symbol of the state.

The Emperor's abdication would require revisions of the Imperial Household system, and expressing his intention may therefore be viewed as a political act prohibited by the Constitution. The agency is carefully examining the Emperor's speech to the public.

According to sources with connections to the matter, the 82-year-old Emperor anticipates that it may become necessary to cede the throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, if the Emperor should become unable to fulfil his duties as the symbol of the state as he further advances in years.

The agency is also considering a plan in which the Emperor's expression of his thoughts will be conveyed through a televised speech in early August. It is expected that the Emperor would explain about his official duties as the symbol of the state as well as changes in his duties related to aging.

Abdication would require revisions of the Imperial House Law, which stipulates, "Upon the demise of the Emperor, the Imperial heir shall immediately accede to the throne." Abdication would also require newly enacting a special law. Therefore, some people assert that the Emperor's act to express his thoughts about Imperial succession may violate Article 4 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the Emperor "shall not have powers related to government."

Since July 13, there have been a series of news reports over the Emperor's possible intention to abdicate, and some of the coverage reportedly is against the Emperor's intention. The agency is making arrangements to create an opportunity for the Emperor to express his thoughts directly to the public because it considers it important for the issue to be widely discussed among the public as abdication requires fundamental reviews of the system regarding the Emperor, who is the symbol of the unity of the people.

"I assume the Emperor's speech will clearly convey his thoughts by touching on a series of reports [on his possible abdication]," an agency source said.

In the past, the Emperor has made remarks over the system that recognises the Emperor as the symbol of the state as well as over Japanese history through his messages at press conferences on the occasions of his birthday, the 10th and 20th anniversaries of his enthronement, and at the National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead. The agency deems that there would be no problem for the Emperor to express his thoughts as he did in the past.

Shinichiro Yamamoto, the agency's vice grand steward, told media on Friday, "Nothing has been decided" about the timing and how the Emperor may express his thoughts.

The Emperor has told those around him about his thoughts on abdication since at least a few years ago. In such talks, he reportedly has touched on practices overseas where succession to a throne takes place through abdication and also the fact that there have been no abdications over the last 200 years in Japan. In response, the agency has studied the establishment of legal systems that would become necessary to allow the Emperor to abdicate.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday said he "would refrain from making any comment on behalf of the government" regarding the report that the Emperor may express his thoughts in August.