REPORTING FROM ISHINOMAKI, JAPAN -– Popular Emperor Akihito has been diagnosed with mild bronchial pneumonia and has remained hospitalized for nearly two weeks, according to a report from the royal household.
The 77-year-old emperor, who ascended the throne after his father Hirohito died in 1989, developed a fever this month and was admitted to University of Tokyo Hospital on Nov. 6.
The Imperial Household Agency released a statement saying that the emperor is responding to antibiotics and that his fever once reached 102 degrees but is now falling.
Still beloved by generations of Japanese, Akihito and Empress Michiko have admitted that staying healthy in the fishbowl life of Japanese royalty is a challenge.
Akihito has been on hormone therapy since prostate surgery in 2003. He also takes medication for his arteries. Three years ago, the emperor was treated for an irregular pulse, high blood pressure and internal bleeding that are said to be linked to feuds with his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, over his failure to provide a male heir.
An off-the-cuff remark by his doctor set off speculation that a long-running row over the future of the monarchy was the cause of the emperor’s illness. Ichiro Kanazawa, head of the Imperial Household Agency's medical division, told reporters: “Please do not simply think that he feels distress because he is busy performing official duties or as his schedule is tight. His Majesty has felt distress over many matters and I believe he has been patiently holding himself back.”
But tongues began wagging among royalty watchers in Tokyo that all was not well in the Imperial Household with no male heir in sight. "We know there has been some sort of falling out between the emperor and his oldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, and it appears it is deeper than we thought,” one Japanese professor said at the time.
The emperor reportedly was unhappy with his son’s decision to marry commoner Masako Owada in 1993. She has not produced the male heir required to keep the dynasty alive and in recent years has rarely been seen in public, apparently because of the strain of the tensions within the family.
She gave birth to Princess Aiko in December 2001 but three years later the pressure had reportedly caused the crown princess to suffer what the palace has termed an adjustment disorder.
Akihito was born Dec. 23, 1933, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako. During the war, the 7-year-old prince was evacuated from the capital to the mountain town of Nikko, north of the city, safe from American bombing raids.
On Nov. 10, 1951, he was formally installed as crown prince.
Akihito met his wife, Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a prominent industrial and academic family, at a tennis match in Karuizara in 1957. They were engaged a year later and Michiko became the first commoner to marry into the imperial family.
A recent story in the Japanese press said that Akihito was an avid outdoorsman who likes to begin each day with a bird- and plant-spotting walk in the Fukiage Garden, a wooded area of the palace estate.
During a visit to Tokyo in 2009, President Obama received criticism for offering Akihito what many said was a bow that went too low for the pride of his office.
After the March earthquake and tsunami, he delivered an unprecedented address to his people in which he urged calm, perseverance and solidarity in "the difficult days that lie ahead."
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Japan's Emperor Akihito waves to well-wishers in December 2010 as he celebrates his 77th birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Credit: Issei Kato / Reuters