The 82-year-old has in recent years referred to his old age and admitted to making small mistakes at ceremonies, and the Imperial Household Agency has suggested reducing his duties while giving more responsibility to Crown Prince Naruhito.
According to the country’s public television station NHK, Emperor Akihito does not wish to remain emperor if he has to reduce his official duties.
He has told palace officials that he does not wish to cling to his title with drastically reduced responsibility or by arranging a substitute, the report said, adding that Emperor Akihito has been mulling over the possibility over the past few years.
Despite his age, the emperor has maintained a busy schedule and attended ceremonies, greeted foreign dignitaries and travelled to northern and southern Japan to comfort residents following deadly earthquakes.
Emperor Akihito has also attempted to soothe some of the wounds from the Second World War, travelling to China early in his reign and visiting major battlefields.
He visited the western Pacific nation of Palau last year, and the Philippines, one of the victims of Japan’s wartime aggression, earlier this year.
It was not known if he had a timeline to relinquish his title to Prince Naruhito, 56, the elder of his two sons and first in line of succession.
Kyodo News agency carried a report similar to NHK’s that quoted government officials. The Imperial Household Agency declined to comment and denied any speculation about Emperor Akihito’s health.
The imperial law does not specify rules about a living succession, including what his post-retirement status might be. Kyodo quoted unidentified government sources as saying that a succession while the emperor is alive requires a revision to the law.
The last succession from a living emperor was around 200 years ago.
According to the traditional count, Emperor Akihito is 125th in a line of emperors that began with Jimmu in 660 BC. Historical records suggest the throne dates back to at least the fifth century, making it the oldest surviving hereditary monarchy.
Emperor Akihito married a commoner in 1959. He and Empress Michiko have three children.
He has sought to heal the scars of the Second World War, saying last year: “Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war.”
He acknowledged his Korean ancestry in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, which Japan and South Korea jointly hosted. This surprised many in Japan, given the country’s bitter colonial legacy on the Korean peninsula.