Japan's Emperor Akihito is set to make a rare address to the nation on Monday in remarks widely expected to signal that the 82-year old monarch wants to abdicate - something that hasn't happened in two centuries.

Speculation about Akihito's future started last month with reports he had told confidantes that his advancing age was making it harder to perform ceremonial duties and that he would like to step down in a few years.


We don't expect the emporer to say in as many words: I express my wish to abdicate. If he were to do that, it would require a change in household law, or some kind of legal privisoion to be put in place to allow him to do that, and that could be seen in the very strict terms of the constitution as a political intervention by the emporer.

That is something that isn't allowed to happen here in Japan, so what instead we're expecting him to say is to signal something along the lines about how he feels about his current position and his ability to carry out his duties.

It wouldn't be the first time - at the press conference for his 82nd birthday in December, he said he wishes to express his apologies to anyone who felt that he might have made some mistakes during recent public events, that he was feeling his age.

Certainly, there has been a heavy trailing in recent weeks. I think that he does wish to abdicate and this very rare address would potentially allow Japanese bureaucrats to start moving, and make that possible.

They would either have to redraft the imperial household law, which currently has no provision for abdication, or come up with a one-off law pertaining to this particular emporer and this particular moment. He's likely to be on the throne for several years yet while all of that takes place.

I think he will be remembered as someone who very much wanted to promote the idea of peace, and making amends for Japan's wartime behaviour. Also, he's someone that wanted to reconnect the monarchy with the Japanese people.

After weeks of public denials the palace on Friday announced that the emperor would make an address on Monday at 0600 GMT about his "feelings regarding his duties as a symbol" of the nation.

Previous emperors, including wartime sovereign Hirohito - also known as Emperor Showa - were deemed semi-divine but in the aftermath of the country's World War II defeat and occupation the role became constitutionally limited to "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people".

The address, reportedly to last about 10 minutes, marks only the second time Akihito has spoken directly to the nation, the first in the days after the March 2011 triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster as he sought to calm a nation undergoing its worst crisis since the war.

Akihito will reportedly speak obliquely about his wishes and is unlikely to utter the word abdication due to constraints on his involvement in politics.

But the government is expected to interpret them as meaning his wish is to step down, and then quickly embark on creating the necessary legal measures. Under current law there is no mechanism for the emperor to abdicate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government will reportedly issue a statement after the emperor's speech to clarify its stance.

Public support

The origins of Japan's monarchy, said to be the world's oldest hereditary monarchy, are ancient and legend says it is an unbroken line going back some 2,600 years.

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It is deeply ingrained in the nation's native Shinto religion and it comes with with numerous ritual duties, including planting rice in a field within the palace grounds.

The speech comes during an annual time of sensitivity in Japan with August being a month of remembrance. Japan commemorated the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Saturday and does so again on Tuesday for Nagasaki.

Next Monday, the country will mark the 71st anniversary of its defeat in World War II, an annual event at which the emperor delivers a speech.

Akihito was 11 years old when the war ended and witnessed the destruction it brought to Japan.

He has keenly embraced the role of symbolic sovereign and is credited with making efforts to seek reconciliation both at home and abroad over the legacy of the war fought in his father's name.

He has visited places that saw some of the most intense fighting, including Okinawa at home and Saipan, Palau and the Philippines abroad, offering prayers for the souls of all the dead, not just Japanese.

Any move by Akihito to step down appears to have wide public support. A survey by Kyodo News last week showed that 85.7 percent of people surveyed were in favour of legal changes that would allow abdication.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies