CBSN

Japan's Emperor Akihito hints at abdication

TOKYO -- The Japanese emperor, in a rare address to the public, signaled Monday his apparent wish to abdicate by expressing concern about his ability to carry out his duties fully.

"It was some years ago, after my two surgeries that I began to feel a decline in my fitness level because of my advancing age, and I started to think about the pending future, how I should conduct myself should it become difficult for me to carry out my heavy duties in the way I have been doing, and what would be best for the country, for the people, and also for the Imperial Family members who will follow after me. I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health. However, when I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now." he said in a 10-minute pre-recorded speech broadcast on national television.

It may be the closest he could come to saying he wants to step down, given restrictions on what he can say as a symbolic monarch with no political power. As expected, he avoided using the word "abdication," which could have violated those restrictions.

There is no mention of abdication in Japanese law, the BBC reports, so there would need to be a legal change if the emperor were to step down. Furthermore, under the constitution, the emperor is not permitted to make political statements, and expressing a desire to abdicate could be seen as political.

The 82-year-old monarch spoke publicly after recent media reports that he may want to abdicate. If he does, it isn't expected to happen immediately, as legal changes would be needed to allow him to do so.

Akihito suggested in his speech a need to consider how to make the succession process smoother.

Akihito has reportedly told palace officials and his family that he doesn't wish to cling to his title if his responsibilities have to be severely reduced, and his two sons have accepted the idea.

Akihito has been the emperor of Japan since the 1989 death of his father, Hirohito, according to the BBC.