Japan emperor told to work less due to health worry

Tue Dec 9, 2008 5:50am EST
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Emperor Akihito should reduce his busy workload in the coming month after suffering bleeding in the stomach due to stress, Kyodo news agency quoted royal medical staff as saying on Tuesday.

The emperor is the latest member of the royal family to suffer a stress-related illness. His wife Michiko experienced intestinal bleeding last year, and their daughter-in-law Princess Masako has yet to recover from a mental illness.

Medical checks showed the 74-year-old emperor was suffering from bleeding and inflammation in the stomach caused by physical and mental stress, Kyodo quoted the Imperial Household Agency's medical supervisor as saying.

The supervisor added that royal events scheduled for the end of the year through to the New Year, including functions for the emperor's birthday on December 23, should be cut back.

The agency declined to comment. The emperor, who had prostate cancer surgery in 2003, just last week canceled some duties after suffering from an irregular pulse, although the symptoms are reported to have subsided and he has resumed light duties.

The emperor has no political role but is considered a symbol of the state. His packed schedule ranges from greeting foreign dignitaries and traveling abroad to visiting nursery schools and regions hit by disasters.

Government officials and royal family members have also called for a lighter workload for the aging imperial couple, often lauded for their efforts to modernize the court and reach out to ordinary people.

While popular with the public, the royal family has long been clouded by stress-related illnesses, with Empress Michiko struggling to adapt to rigid court life since becoming in 1959 the first commoner to marry an heir to the throne.

Her plight has been mirrored by her daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, a former diplomat who has made only limited public appearances over the past four years due to a mental illness thought to be caused by pressure to bear a male heir.

Masako, who celebrated her 45th birthday on Tuesday, skipped events for the day because of a cold but issued a statement saying she felt she had taken on more official duties over the past year.

(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

<p>Japan's Emperor Akihito walks past a cloakroom as he arrives at an exhibition of paintings by Japanese artist Taikan Yokoyama in Tokyo February 18, 2008. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>