The emperor of Japan has questioned his ability to perform ceremonial rituals due to his waning health. His remarks are largely seen as a plea for lawmakers to create the legal measures necessary for abdication.
Japan's Emperor Akihito on Monday addressed the nation in a rare prerecorded message, saying it may be "difficult" for him to continue fulfilling his duties.
He said health issues and aging have taken its toll on him as emperor, a position that comes with the expectation to perform ceremonial rituals.
"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," Akihito said.
The emperor's statement is largely seen as an expression of his desire to abdicate, a move unprecedented in two centuries.
Abdication poses several challenges since there are no legal measures set out in Japan's constitution, which stipulates his role as a "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people."
Under the constitution, regency may be established only in cases in which the emperor is unable to perform his or her duties due to health or being a minor. However, Akihito expressed a negative view of this provision.
"Even in such a case, there would be no change in the fact that the emperor would stay at his position until his death, being unable to fully perform duties as emperor," he said, according to The Japan Times.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the emperor's remarks, saying he would consider the government's options.
"I will seriously consider the remarks of the emperor to the people," Abe said after the historic address.
"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," he added.
The potential abdication has popular support from the public, with 85.7 percent of those surveyed by Kyodo news agency saying they favor legal changes to allow for the process, while 10.8 percent said they prefer the status quo.
Nearly 90 percent of those polled said they also believed that the 82-year-old emperor had too many official duties.
The origins of Japan's hereditary monarchy, believed to be the world's oldest, are said to date back some 2,600 years. The emperor is also considered the highest authority in Japan's native Shinto religion.
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko married in 1959. Akihito ascended to the throne after his father passed away in January 1989.
ls/kl (AFP, dpa)