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As Japan's emperor turns 80, it’s time to consider trimming his duties
Publication Date : 24-12-2013
The Emperor has marked his 80th birthday.
On this occasion, we express our heartfelt congratulations to the Emperor for reaching this milestone while being hale and hearty.
In February last year, the Emperor underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. His recovery has gone as scheduled. The Emperor currently performs official duties at the same pace as he did before the operation.
The day before his 80th birthday on Monday, the Emperor said at a news conference in the Imperial Palace, “While coming to terms with certain constraints due to my advancing age, I would like to continue playing my role as much as possible.”
Referring to his official duties, he said, “I wish to maintain my current pace, at least for a while.” This suggests he is rather negative about any move to reduce his official duties on health grounds.
This is presumably because the Emperor, with his best wishes for the happiness of the people, still feels a strong sense of responsibility to continue moving forward with the populace.
Accompanied by the Empress, the Emperor visited such places this year as areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and Minamata, the city in Kumamoto Prefecture that has become known for the mercury-poisoning disease with the same name. The Imperial couple also followed a tight schedule on their recent official visit to India.
Many people want the Emperor to be able to continue to engage in his official duties in good health. For this very reason, however, we believe the burden placed on the Emperor should not be excessive.
The Imperial Household Agency should examine how to reduce the load shouldered by the Emperor, perhaps by handing some of his duties to Imperial family members including Crown Prince Naruhito and his younger brother, Prince Akishino.
Adhering to constitution
The Emperor’s stance of always giving consideration to the people is also represented by his views on his funeral and mausoleum.
In November, the Imperial Household Agency announced that the Emperor plans to be cremated, rather than be buried as has been tradition for emperors since the Edo period, and scale down his mausoleum compared to those of the Emperor’s predecessors.
These plans fit snugly with the wishes of the Emperor and Empress not to impose an onerous burden on the people in regard to the construction of their mausoleums and their funerals. These decisions can be said to reflect the desire of the Emperor, who has been committed to ensuring the Imperial family can meet the changes of the times while keeping the essence of royal tradition intact.
During the news conference, a question was asked about the relationship between the Imperial family and politics.
Some media outlets were outraged that Princess Hisako of Takamado attended the general session of the International Olympic Committee in September that chose Tokyo as host city of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games.
In reply to the question, the Emperor said when he faces a thorny question, “I have made it a rule to seek the opinions of the Imperial Household Agency director general and the agency’s councillors.”
This statement was intended to emphasise afresh his position of adhering closely to Article 4 of the Constitution, which stipulates the Emperor “shall not have powers related to government”.
At the IOC session, Princess Hisako only expressed Japan’s gratitude for such things as support extended from many nations after the Great East Japan Earthquake. She refrained from making any direct reference to Tokyo’s Games bid. Some media said her speech amounted to “using the Imperial family for political purposes”. It was nothing of the sort.
This issue must not be allowed to bother the Emperor any further.