Emperor Akihito of Japan has expressed his intention to abdicate, according to the country's public broadcaster NHK. The 82-year-old will relinquish his title in the coming years, although an exact date has not been given.
NHK added that the emperor, who has suffered from poor health recently, does not wish to remain in power if he has to reduce his official duties. Akihito was last pictured carrying out an engagement earlier this month when he attended a charity concert in Tokyo with his wife Empress Michiko.
In May he also welcomed Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the palace.
Emperor Akihito has expressed his intention to abdicate in the coming years
Unidentified sources from the Imperial Household Agency confirmed the news on Wednesday.
Akihito's son Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, is next in line to succeed his father.
An abdication would be an unprecedented move in Japan; it has not occurred since 1817 when Emperor Kokaku stepped down.
Akihito has been head of state for nearly three decades. His enthronement ceremony took place in November 1990 following the death of his father Emperor Hirohito in 1989.
The 82-year-old has suffered from poor health recently
In recent years Akihito has faced various health problems. As he approached his 70th birthday, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer. In 2011 he was again admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis.
In February 2012, the emperor underwent a heart bypass surgery at the University of Tokyo Hospital. At the time a spokesperson said doctors had decided to carry out the operation after conducting tests, and the procedure would serve to "maintain and to improve his majesty's daily life".
According to Japan's Imperial House law, the emperor is succeeded by the nearest male relative. This would be Crown Prince Naruhito, the elder son of the emperor and empress.
Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed him
Naruhito shares one daughter Princess Aiko, 14, with his wife Crown Princess Masako. When the crown prince ascends the throne, his wife Masako will become empress consort.
However their daughter Aiko is not in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne because laws of succession in Japan forbid inheritance by or through females.
Instead, Naruhito's younger brother Prince Fumihito, 50, is second in line.