Japan will tune in on Monday to hear a recorded message from Emperor Akihito, just the second in his 27-year reign as the country's ceremonial head of state. The message follows reports of Akihito desiring to abdicate the Chrysanthemum throne in the following years, but Monday's speech will likely not touch the issue.
Instead, Akihito will discuss his duties as a “symbol emperor,” palace officials say. Discussion of abdication would surpass Akihito’s authority, as legal and political procedures are involved. A pre-recorded message will allow the Imperial Household Agency to communicate the Emperor’s perspective in a manner that is not likely to be misconstrued, The Japan Times reported.
“(The Emperor) had a strong wish to directly speak to the public, but live coverage cannot be shot again so the risk was big,” a senior agency official said, explaining the reason for avoiding an unprecedented live televised address by an emperor. Much more than abdication is at stake.
Akihito’s first recorded address was released mid-March 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit parts of the Tohoku region. This second address will have a different effect because of its political nature.
Abdication would require action by Japan’s parliament, as the The Christian Science Monitor has previously reported.
The emperor's stepping down would not shake up Japanese politics; he would be succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito. The mention of now-rare abdication has sent Japan's parliament scrambling, however, according to Ken Ruoff, director of Portland State University's Center for Japanese Studies. Abdication is unprecedented under the Imperial Household Law (IHL), instituted in 1947, which governs the line of succession."
Some say that changing the IHL could raise the prospect of a female emperor, an idea considered before prince Hisahito was born in 2006. Even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made women’s empowerment and work rights a priority, his conservative base of supporters staunchly disagrees with female ascension to the throne, The LA Times reports.
Previous empresses have been succeeded by princes of the bloodline instead of their own children. Traditionalists hold that the male line has persisted for more than 2,000 years.
Unlike female ascension, abdication seems to be popular amongst the Japanese citizenry. A nationwide telephone survey conducted by Kyodo New agency in August reported nearly 85 percent said Akihito and his successors should have the legal option of abdication.
"Changing that will reflect the reality of Japanese society first of all, the way that almost all people here feel about working and life and career building," Robert Campbell, a University of Tokyo professor and expert on Japanese history and culture, told the Associated Press.
The Emperor's message will supplement his normally-televised pre-recorded answers to press club questions before his birthday in December and ahead of overseas trips.