TOKYO -- Some 89% of the Japanese public support Emperor Akihito's wishes to step down, a recent opinion poll shows, which could help spur debate over lasting reforms to the Imperial system.
Support consistently came to about 90% across all age groups, genders, occupations and party affiliations in a randomized phone survey conducted by The Nikkei and TV Tokyo this week. Only 4% were opposed to Akihito stepping down.
Seventy-seven percent expressed support in response to a differently worded question on abdication in a July poll. Akihito's recent address to the public signaling his desire to step down seems to have swayed some people.
Of those who supported abdication in this week's poll, 76% thought the government should create a permanent framework that allows all future emperors to retire if they wish, while 18% wanted a one-time provision that applies only to Akihito.
The Japanese constitution prohibits the emperor from making political comments or actions. Eighty-three percent did not see any legal problems with Akihito's address, but 9% thought it was unconstitutional.
In response to public opinion, the government plans to set up an expert panel as early as September to start debating the abdication issue in earnest. Some in the ruling coalition think these discussions alone will take at least a year.
A permanent framework for abdication will require changing the Imperial House Law, which currently includes no such provisions. The process will be more complicated than creating a one-time exception for Akihito, since a lasting revision also needs to guard against future emperors quitting arbitrarily or being forced off the throne.
Less than a fifth of the public wants a one-time fix. Because the Japanese constitution states that the emperor derives his position "from the will of the people," the government is expected take the public's lead on the abdication issue.
Past debates over further reforms to the Imperial system could pick up again as well. Fifty-eight percent of respondents thought the government should consider allowing women to accede to the throne and to remain in the Imperial family after marriage.
"If we start debating these issues in addition to abdication, the situation will get out of hand," a government source said.