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Emperor’s childhood friend details discussion on abdication

Emperor Akihito told an old friend in July that he hopes a system is created allowing Imperial abdication, offering the first revelation of the monarch’s thoughts on how his reign should end.


The Emperor also expressed concern that the Imperial court may be split into factions in the event that a regent is appointed, according to the friend.


Mototsugu Akashi, 82, quoted Emperor Akihito as saying in a private conversation that he hopes to see a “system in which abdication is possible not only for myself but in the future.”


Abdication, which is not allowed under current law, has been a high-profile topic since the 82-year-old Emperor made a rare televised address to the nation in early August signaling his desire to abdicate in the future.


A government advisory panel is studying the issue, including a proposal that special legislation be passed to enable only the present Emperor to relinquish the throne. The panel was established after the Emperor’s video message was broadcast.


Akashi, who studied with the Emperor from kindergarten through high school at Gakushuin, said that when they spoke over the phone at around 10 p.m. on July 21, the Emperor told him he had been thinking about abdication “for quite a long time.”


Akashi said he first received a phone call from an official of the Imperial Household Agency who takes care of the Emperor, saying the Emperor wanted to talk to him. News of the Emperor’s desire to give up the post was first reported July 13.


In speaking with Akashi, the Emperor also expressed concern about the confusion that could possibly ensue from the installation of a regent, referring to the experience of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who served as regent under Emperor Taisho, who died in 1926.


The Emperor told his old schoolmate that he heard that there was a clash of opinions between the factions for the emperor and regent.

“I think regent is not a good idea,” the Emperor was quoted as telling Akashi.


Akashi, who has spoken to the media frequently, said it is possible the Emperor wanted to make sure his true intent was properly conveyed to the Japanese people through his old friend.


In November 1921, Emperor Hirohito, who was then a crown prince, became a regent at the age of 20 after Emperor Taisho’s health deteriorated.


The Imperial Household Ministry, the predecessor of the Imperial Household Agency, decided on the move.


But Emperor Taisho refused to hand over a small box containing the Imperial seal when the grand chamberlain came to receive it, according to a diary from the Emperor’s aide.


Emperor Showa, as Emperor Hirohito is known posthumously, served as regent under Emperor Taisho until his father died in December 1926 at the age of 47.


In the case of Emperor Showa, who became ill and bed-ridden, no regent was appointed for reasons that are not known.


Takeshi Hara, a professor at the Open University of Japan who is well-versed in the Imperial system, said Emperor Akihito’s remarks indicate that he knows very well what went on behind the scenes in Emperor Taisho’s day, when the Imperial court was split into factions, one supporting the Emperor and the other the regent.


“It seems to be unbearable (for the Emperor) to become like Emperor Taisho,” he added.

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