Royal household says shock reports are not true as country grapples with idea of beloved monarch stepping aside to make way for son
Japans Emperor Akihito has no plans to step down, the imperial household has insisted denying reports the 82-year-old wants to abdicate in what would be an extraordinary move for a royal line going back more than 2,600 years.
The countrys establishment was been thrown into tumult after respected public broadcaster NHK citing palace sources said Akihito wanted to pass the throne to his son.
Any such abdication the first in 200 years would be a huge shock to a country where the revered royal family symbolises stability and continuity.
Observers say NHK and Kyodo News, which separately carried a similar report, would be extremely careful before committing on such an explosive story, and would certainly have strong sourcing.
But the Imperial Household Agency, the government body that runs royal affairs, offered a categorical denial.
It is absolutely not true, said Shinichiro Yamamoto, the agencys vice grand steward.
The emperor has long refrained from discussing systematic issues out of consideration for his majestys constitutional position, he told reporters.
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, declined to comment, hinting at the sensitivity of the matter, as did Yoshihide Suga, the governments top spokesman.
Akihitos role is strictly limited to one of symbol of the state under a constitution imposed by the United States in the aftermath of Japans defeat in the second world war.
A court official told AFP that the agency had not been discussing a possible abdication by the emperor.
However, Japans top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported that the government was secretly reviewing such a possibility.
There is no provision in the Japanese constitution for an abdication apparently a mechanism to prevent the arbitrary replacement of emperors.
Akihitos father, Hirohito, in whose name Japans military campaigns of the 20th century were prosecuted, was treated as a living god until defeat in 1945.
The throne, which Japan claims to be one of the worlds oldest, is held in deep respect by much of the public, despite being largely stripped of its mystique and quasi-divine status in the aftermath of the war.
The much-admired Akihito has suffered from numerous health issues including prostate cancer and heart problems. He publicly hinted late in 2015 at his growing limitations in performing his ceremonial duties.