“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 an address to the nation.

“There are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness,” the 82-year-old said. Akihito spoke obliquely, never mentioning the word abdication, but the government is expected to interpret his comments as meaning his wish is to eventually step down.

It can then begin creating the necessary legal mechanism which currently does not exist.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in a swift response to the emperor’s speech, said the government would take the emperor’s remarks “seriously”.

“Considering the emperor’s duties, as well as his age and the burden (of the job), we have to firmly look at what we can do.”

Akihito has keenly embraced the role of symbol of the state imposed after the war. He is credited with seeking reconciliation both at home and abroad over the legacy of the war fought in his father’s name. He has ventured to a number of locales that saw intense fighting, including Okinawa at home and Saipan, Palau and the Philippines abroad, making sure to offer prayers for the souls of all the dead and not just Japanese.


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