Japan rocked as people’s Emperor Akihito ‘plans to abdicate in next few years’

Japan’s Emperor Akihito is planning to retire and relinquish his title in the next few years, it was reported on Wednesday. The 82-year-old Akihito, who in recent years has referred to his old age and admitted to making small mistakes at ceremonies, does not wish to remain emperor if he has to reduce his official duties. He has told palace officials he does not wish to cling to his title and has been mulling the possibility of standing down over the past few years. It is not known when he would relinquish his title to 56-year-old Naruhito, the elder of his two sons and first in line of succession.

This would be huge because Akihito is enormously popular with the public; he is a voice of reconciliation… he has done more than all of Japan’s politicians put together in terms of raising Japan’s stature in the region. He is known as the people’s Emperor.

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan

The Emperor plays a largely ceremonial role but is respected deeply by many Japanese and has been admired for distancing the monarchy from its association with the aggressive nationalism of World War II. He has kept up a busy schedule, visiting the western Pacific nation of Palau last year, and the Philippines earlier this year. The law does not specify rules about a living succession, including what happens to his post-retirement status. Naruhito’s accession may be complicated because his wife, Crown Princess Masako, a former diplomat, is still recovering from a stress-induced mental condition.

He cares a great deal about war issues and reconciliation. Naruhito has made clear that he will carry on with that

Koichi Nakano, political science professor