“I am already 80 years old, and fortunately I am now in good health,” said the monarch, who turns 83 in December.
“However, when I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now,” he said.
This is only the third time a Japanese emperor has spoken to the public in the television and radio era.
Japanese people stopped in the street, gathering to watch the historic address in public on big outdoor screens.
Akihito said that he may appoint a regent, most likely his son Crown Prince Naruhito, to serve in his place if he is seriously ill or incapacitated.
Japan’s imperial household law requires the emperor serve in the position until death. If he becomes incapacitated, his successor can act as regent, according to the constitution.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University, believes that Akihito implied in his speech that Japanese lawmakers make changes to Imperial Household law that would enable him to abdicate.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after the speech that that he will “think very seriously about what we can do” in order to ease the emperor’s burden.