82-year-old Emperor Akihito of Japan has announced that he plans to abdicate in the coming years.
The Emperor expressed his intention to the Imperial Household Agency, public broadcaster NHK said. It would be the first abdication in almost 200 years, the last to step aside being Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. Though it did not cite a specific reason for the coming abdication, the health of Emperor Akihito has been frail for the last couple of years. Just this year he was diagnosed with influenza.
No specific date has been set for the abdication.
His public duties were already being reduced as of 2009, after several health issues, including inflammation of the stomach and physical stress. He also had bypass surgery and surgery for prostate cancer.
Akihito was born on 23 December 1933 as the eldest son and the fifth child of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kōjun (Nagako). He was titled Prince Tsugu as a child. He was heir-apparent to the Chrysanthemum (Japanese) throne from the moment of his birth, but his formal investiture as Crown Prince was held in 1952, and even represented his country at The Queen’s coronation in 1953.
It was in August 1957 he met Michiko Shōda on a tennis court; the couple were engaged in 1958, marrying on 10 April 1959. Michiko was the first commoner to marry into the Imperial Family. They went on to have three children, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (born 1960), Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 1965) and Mrs. Sayako Kuroda (born 1969, formerly known as The Princess Nori). They have four grandchildren, three granddaughters and one grandson.
Emperor Akihito’s heir is his eldest son, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan. He has a single daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi, with his wife, Masako, Crown Princess of Japan, who is not eligible to succeed to the throne under the current succession law. Next in line are his brother, Fumihito, Prince Akishino and his son, Prince Hisahito of Akishino.
The Japanese leader is the fourth to step down in recent years. Spain’s Juan Carlos, the Belgian Albert and the Dutch Queen Beatrix all forwent their Monarchical duties in favour of their eldest sons, Felipe, Phillipe and Willem-Alexander respectively. Speculation continues as to whether The Queen should also step aside, but this is extremely unlikely to happen.