TOKYO, July 13 (UPI) -- Japan's Emperor Akihito is contemplating abdication, national broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday.
Citing a source with Japan's Imperial Household Agency, it added that family members will accept the wishes of the 82-year-old emperor, who has reigned for 28 years. The agency said in May his official duties would be reduced. Since 2011, Emporer Akihito has been treated for bronchial pneumonia, had heart bypass surgery and received a hormone treatment to prevent a recurrence of prostate cancer.
"Someone who can fulfill those duties should take the position," the emperor said, according to the source.
Following a constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, the emperor's position is symbolic, but he is popular with the public and his work has done much to raise Japan's stature in the region.
Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is next in line for the position, known as the Chrysanthemum Throne. Any abdication would not be immediate; NHK said the emperor's comments signaled a hope to step down within several years. Akihito would be the first emperor to voluntarily leave the office since Emperor Kokaku in 1817, before Japan opened itself to the West.