TOKYO -- Although his enthusiasm for public appearances has not waned, at age 82, Japan's emperor has apparently let on that he hopes to cede his throne while his health lasts.
Emperor Akihito has undergone two major surgeries in a little over a decade. Following a 2003 operation to treat prostate cancer, he resumed public duties after a month. But his prostate problems recurred, so he began hormonal therapy the following year, complemented by a fitness regimen to guard against the risk of bone loss associated with these treatments.
In 2011, the emperor was diagnosed with hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which led to a four-hour bypass surgery in February of the following year. Never before had a Japanese emperor undergone such a serious operation. Yet a week after being discharged from the hospital, he and Empress Michiko attended a memorial service for victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The emperor has visited communities struck by other quakes since then, most recently in southwestern Japan in April, and traveled overseas almost every year to honor World War II victims on foreign battlefields. If his surgeries have taken a toll on his energy, it is not apparent in the vigor with which he applies himself to his public appearances.
Even so, the creeping effects of age have shown themselves at times. During national war memorial services last August, the emperor delivered his remarks out of turn. Two months later, he appeared to have misunderstood the program at a fisheries event.
"I have come to feel my age more often, and I have made mistakes during events at times," the emperor acknowledged at a news conference last December, when he turned 82.
The Imperial Household Agency has eased the emperor's workload. The frequency of courtesy calls at the Imperial Palace has been reduced, and he no longer makes speeches at certain functions. Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino have shouldered some of the public duties that usually fall to the emperor.
In 2013, on the verge of turning 80, the emperor began enjoying "private" holidays with Empress Michiko. These trips, unaccompanied by public officials as on official tours, have taken them to places like Nagano.
But the emperor himself opposes major cutbacks to his schedule.
"I would say His Majesty thinks that fulfilling one's duties are what makes an emperor," an aide says.