Analysis on Emperor's Message
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Analysis on Emperor's Message

    Hirotsugu Takata, NHK World's News Director, provided analysis for NEWSLINE on Emperor Akihito's message to the public.

    Q: Hirotsugu, what did he have to say?

    A: Well the Emperor is implying he wishes to hand down the throne. He said when he considers that his physical condition is "gradually declining," he worries that "it may become difficult to carry out his duties as the symbol of State."

    And that "his earnest wish" is that "the duties can continue steadily without a break." He also commented on the possibility of remaining in his position by reducing his duties or asking other people to stand in for him. But, he indicated that isn't something he wants.

    Q: So Hirotsugu, what stood out for you the most?

    A: I think it's clear the Emperor highly values his duties as a symbol of the State. He said he's carried them out with his "whole being" and I got the impression he strongly believes the duties should always be carried out that way. He implied that if he becomes unable to carry them out sufficiently, he should hand the duties, as well as the throne, down to the younger generation.

    Q: So why is the Emperor expressing his feelings to the public now?

    A: Well, more than anything, it's his age. The Emperor said at the beginning of his message that being over 80, "there are times" when he feels "various constraints." Sources say the Emperor first signaled his intention to abdicate about 5 years ago, and late last year, he again conveyed that wish to close aides.

    The Imperial Household Agency has since been discussing the issue, as the Emperor gets older and continues to take part in many public engagements. They likely believe that the issue can't be put off for long.

    Q: So, the Emperor had been signaling his intention to his close aides and family. But today, he did not use the word "abdication." Why?

    A: Because the Emperor's direct use of the term could risk infringing on the Constitution. The Emperor said that he "must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing Imperial system." For him to abdicate, the Diet would have to approve new legal measures.

    That's because there are no provisions for an abdication under the current laws. So if the Emperor had openly said he wants to abdicate, it could have been seen as interfering in politics -- something the Constitution doesn't allow him to do.

    Q: What's expected to happen after this?

    A: Well, our sources say the Emperor would like it to happen in the coming years. Some government officials and politicians say they should respond quickly, given the Emperor's age. But others point out the entire process to allow abdication would not be short. The government is planning to ask experts from various fields on their views before taking any steps.

    And discussions probably won't begin for a while. That's because if the government does respond right away, the Emperor's message could be construed as a constitutional violation.

    Q: And if the Emperor does abdicate, what will actually change?

    A: Well, as you know, in Japan we have eras--one for each emperor. Japanese people use them to measure the years, in addition to the Western calendar. We're currently in the Heisei era. But if the Emperor is allowed to abdicate and the Crown Prince takes over, we would literally enter a new era, with a new name. And the counting of the years would reset to 1.

    NHK World's Senior Correspondent Shogo Takahashi joined NEWSROOM TOKYO' s anchors to share with his insights.

    Q: So. Shogo, the Emperor had given signals, but he didn't actually use the term "abdication" today. Why?

    A: Because if he said it directly, he would risk infringing on the Constitution. The Emperor noted that he "must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing Imperial system."

    For him to be able to abdicate, the government would have to pass legislation. That's because the current laws do not address the issue. So if the Emperor had openly said he wants to abdicate, it could have been seen as interfering in politics-- something the Constitution doesn't allow him to do.

    Q: Shogo, what stuck out for you the most?

    A: Well, he pointed out that Japanese society is aging, and that he himself is too. So he said he wanted to discuss what the Emperor's role should be. He said he has fulfilled his role with his "whole being" but worries that may become difficult as he considers his physical condition.

    He spoke about the possibility of remaining in his position and reducing his duties, or asking other members of his family to stand in for him. He indicated that isn't something he wants. He said "his earnest wish" is that "the duties can continue steadily without a break."

    Q: So why is the Emperor expressing his feelings to the public now?

    A: Well, he's getting older. He pointed out that being over 80, he feels "various constraints." Sources say the Emperor first signaled his intention to abdicate about 5 years ago, and late last year, told his close aides that again. He continues to take part in many public engagements, but the Imperial Household Agency has been discussing the issue, believing they can't wait.

    Q: Shogo, what's expected to happen after this?

    A: Well, our sources say the Emperor would like to abdicate in the coming years. Some government officials and politicians say they should act quickly, because of the Emperor's age. But others argue the process to allow abdication could take time.

    The government plans to ask various experts what they think before making any decisions. And discussions probably won't begin for a while. That's because if the government does move forward right away, the Emperor's message could be seen as violating the Constitution.

    Q: And if the Emperor does abdicate, what will actually change?

    A: If an abdication does occur, Crown Prince Naruhito will take the throne. In the imperial family, only males can become Emperor. Because the Crown Prince doesn't have a son, his younger brother will move up to become his heir.

    Sources say the Emperor has suggested he and Empress Michiko will support the Crown Prince and Princess with their public activities. And he is said to have indicated that he will watch over the Japanese people from "a new stance."

    In addition, as you know, each emperor denotes an era in Japan. We're currently in the Heisei era. They're used to measure the years, in addition to the Western calendar. But if the Emperor is allowed to abdicate and the Crown Prince takes over, we would literally enter a new era, with a new name. And the calendar year would go back to 1.