TOKYO (Reuters) – Emperor Akihito, 84, spent much of his three decades on the throne seeking to soothe the wounds of war, reaching out to the those in need, and remaking the image of the imperial family into a “middle-class” monarchy.
Akihito will step down in favor of Crown Prince Naruhito on April 30, 2019, the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in nearly two centuries. Below are some key facts about the emperor.
UNTAINTED BY WAR
Akihito’s father, Hirohito, was considered a “living god” until he renounced his divinity after Japan’s defeat in World War Two, beginning a makeover of the monarchy into a democratic symbol.
Akihito, 11 when the war ended, expanded on that new image. His 1959 marriage to Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, was the first by an emperor to a commoner, and they worked to draw the imperial family closer to the people.
All three of their children went to university and married commoners, and the public was informed when Akihito was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, a sharp contrast to the secrecy around Emperor Hirohito’s fatal illness, revealed after his death to be intestinal cancer.
Still, Akihito lives with constraints.
His public comments are carefully vetted and negotiated to ensure they do not interfere with Japanese politics.
Unlike ordinary Japanese, the emperor and other royals have no surname. Akihito has a driver’s license, but only drives inside palace grounds. He has no passport and cannot vote or live outside imperial property, because the royal family is not included in Japan’s family register system.
Akihito took the unusual step of giving a televised address in August 2016 to convey his concerns that age and health problems would make him unable to carry out his duties.
But because of the ban on imperial political statements, he could only hint at his desire to abdicate and the government had to enact a special law to allow him to do so.
Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Gerry Doyle