Japan's Emperor Akihito (L), next to Empress Michiko (R).jpg
A file picture dated 23 December 2015 shows Japan's Emperor Akihito (L), next to Empress Michiko (R), expressing his thanks to well-wishers celebrating Emperor's 82nd birthday from the balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.
Photograph: EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA

Japanese Emperor Akihito has expressed his intention to step down in the coming years, broadcaster NHK reported Wednesday, citing unnamed government sources.

Such a move is unprecedented in modern Japan as the last succession from a living emperor took place about 200 years ago.

The 82-year-old emperor, who is in declining health, has conveyed his intention to the Imperial Household Agency and already informed his family members, NHK reported, citing agency officials.

The emperor said he wants to relinquish the Chrysanthemum Throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, before coming too frail to carry out his duties fully, NHK reported.

The agency is planning an occasion for him to address the public, the report said.

Later Wednesday, the Imperial Household Agency's vice grand steward, Shinichiro Yamamoto, denied that the emperor was ready to abdicate, telling Kyodo News agency, "I know there are media reports about this, but it is definitely not true."

The emperor does not have a health problem requiring him to abdicate immediately, Kyodo reported earlier, citing an unnamed government source.

The emperor has been telling people around him for about a year about his intention to step down, Kyodo said.

Akihito, who ascended the throne in 1989 after the death of his father, Hirohito, underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and suffered stress-related health problems in 2008.

In 2011, the emperor was hospitalized for more than two weeks with bronchitis. He underwent heart bypass surgery in 2012.

Despite such health issues and his age, the emperor has kept up with a demanding schedule, meeting visiting foreign dignitaries and travelling to disaster-stricken regions with Empress Michiko.

Five days after an earthquake and tsunami struck north-eastern Japan, which triggered the country's worst nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011, the emperor made an unprecedented televised address to the public.

"The number of casualties claimed by the quake and the ensuing tsunami continues to rise by the day ... I am praying that the safety of as many people as possible will be confirmed," the emperor said.

"My other grave concern now is the serious and unpredictable condition of the affected nuclear power plant. I earnestly hope that through the all-out efforts of all those concerned, further deterioration of the situation will be averted," he said.

Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to visit China in 1992. The couple made a trip to Saipan in 2005 and Palau in 2015 for the 60th and 70th anniversaries of Japan's surrender in World War II.

In January, they visited the Philippines to pay tribute to the war dead with this year marking the 60th anniversary of the normalization of the two countries' diplomatic relations.

During World War II, "fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured," the emperor said in Manila.

"This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit," he emphasized.

Related stories

Japanese emperor considering abdication

Japanese premier to ask Philippine leader to mend US ties

Latest news

Merkel calls for fewer EU regulations as nationalist sentiments grow

As voters in the Netherlands, France and Germany show increasing support for nationalist, euro-sceptic political movements ahead of this year's elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for limits on EU regulations.

French prosecutors transfer Fillon case to investigative judge

The French judiciary has opened a formal investigation in connection with presidential candidate Francois Fillon to examine whether the employment of his wife as a parliamentary employee was a sham, the country's financial prosecutors' office said Friday.

White House bars major news outlets from press briefing

Major news organizations, which were Friday blocked by the White House from attending an informal press briefing, condemned the move just hours after President Donald Trump described parts of the media as "the enemy of the people."

Report: German intelligence spied on BBC, other foreign journalists

Germany's intelligence agency monitored foreign journalists at the BBC, the New York Times and other news organizations from 1999 onwards across several countries, according to a Friday report from Der Spiegel magazine.

Classroom for Islamic religious education opened in Split

A classroom for Islamic religious education, whose equipment was financially assisted by city and county authorities, was opened in the coastal city of Split on Friday.

Ministry say no licences for export of military goods to Saudi Arabia issued in 2016

The Economy, Enterprise and Crafts Ministry on Friday issued a statement regarding media reports about export licences for military goods, stressing that in 2016 it did not issue any licences for the export of military goods to Saudi Arabia.

Croatia for preserving Bosnia's stability

Croatia on Friday supported the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), calling on its authorities to adopt decisions in institutions, after a request by BiH Presidency Bosniak member Bakir Izetbegovic to review a ruling which acquitted Serbia of genocide.

Mexico is not a migrant "waiting room" for US, interior minister says

Mexico will not accept undocumented immigrants from other countries whom the United States plans to deport, Mexico's interior minister said Friday.

Right-wing populist Wilders declines first Dutch election debate

Candidates from nine Dutch parties answered questions from journalists Friday at the first national radio debate of the election campaign, but the leading candidate

Bosnian Croat reps insist on channel airing programmes in Croatian

Being one of the constituent peoples, the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina are entitled to a broadcaster that will air programmes in their native language, HNS BiH official Ivan Vukoja said at a news conference in Mostar on Friday.

Same-sex couples in Slovenia can marry

A Slovenian law allowing same-sex couples to marry went into force on Friday and the first civil registrar ceremony, between two women, is to take place in Maribor on Saturday, the town's Vecer daily said.

Moody's changes Agrokor's outlook to negative

The Moody's rating agency on Friday changed its outlook for the Agrokor food retailer from stable to negative, affirming its rating of B3.