February 23, 2019
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s crown prince Naruhito, who is set to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne in two months, turned 59 on Saturday and said the thought of the future made him solemn but he intended to pattern his reign after that of his father.
Emperor Akihito, 85, who has had heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, hinted in a 2016 television address that he wanted to step down because he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfill his duties, setting the stage for the first abdication by a Japanese monarch in roughly two centuries.
Akihito’s father, Hirohito, was considered a living god until he renounced his divinity after Japan’s World War Two defeat, and the current emperor has devoted himself to drawing the imperial family closer to the people – a course Naruhito said he would continue.
Akihito will abdicate on April 30, with Naruhito taking the throne a day later.
“When I think of what is coming up, I feel very solemn,” Naruhito told a news conference ahead of his birthday, referring to the new duties he will assume just as his contemporaries prepare to retire.
“I will pray for the people, thinking of them all the time and sharing their joys and their sadness, as my parents have done.”
Though Naruhito vowed to firmly carry on the traditions of the imperial family, he also said it had to be ready to change as needed with the rest of the world, a possible reference to his wife’s role as Empress.
The prince defied palace officials to marry Masako Owada, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated diplomat who has suffered from stress-related illness brought on by the demands of palace life and pressure to bear an heir. Their daughter, 17-year-old Aiko, cannot inherit the throne, limited to males only.
Though Masako’s public appearances were sporadic until recently, Naruhito said he was quite pleased with the steady improvement in her condition.
“Her status will change and her duties increase, but she still won’t try to do everything at once and will have to take care while continuing her efforts to recover,” he said.
“I want to be strong for her and support her as much as possible.”
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)