Japanese Emperor Akihito first spoke to his people via video message after the country had been ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, reports Reuters. The second time was Monday, and his words have been just as headline grabbing. In what the Guardian calls "a masterclass in the art of circumlocution," the 82-year-old hinted of his desire to abdicate: "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." Such a move hasn't occurred since 1817—predating the country's modern era, which began half-a-century later—and would be complicated. The BBC explains that Akihito "is constitutionally not allowed to make any political statements," which an abdication request could be perceived as.
He has no political power, and the law would need to be changed to allow for a transition of the Chrysanthemum Throne; whether to do so is now up to parliament, reports the Wall Street Journal. In his 10-minute statement, Akihito said, "When the emperor has ill health and his condition becomes serious, I am concerned that, as we have seen in the past, society comes to a standstill." The Guardian notes the mourning period can last as long as a year. A complicating factor: Changing the law could open a window for discussion on broadening the rules of succession to allow women to take the throne, something traditionalists oppose. Akihito's eldest son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is next in line, but has only a daughter. (Read more Emperor Akihito stories.)