Photo/IllutrationEmperor Akihito, with Empress Michiko at his side, gives a speech at a ceremony for people who were recognized for their contributions to medical care at the Imperial Palace on March 14. (Pool)

Octogenarians Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are to ease back on their official duties at the suggestion of the Imperial Household Agency.

Shinichiro Yamamoto, the agency's deputy director, said May 9 that the reduced workload was decided after the agency weighed “ways for the couple to conduct official duties corresponding to their advanced ages.”

This will entail granting fewer audiences to high-ranking officials at the Imperial Palace.

Akihito, 82, and Michiko, 81, have agreed to the change, Yamamoto said, adding that the pair are in good health despite health scares in the past.

The emperor and empress will continue to meet with heads of state and other visiting dignitaries. But Akihito will not be required to give a formal speech on those occasions.

Agency officials focused on the 100 or so audiences the emperor and empress grant to senior officials each year.

The agency decided to dispense with eight categories of audiences, including those with prefectural police chiefs and chief judges at district courts.

Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, and Crown Princess Masako, 52, will take over the task of greeting principals of elementary and junior high schools as well as members of Japan’s Disaster Relief Team and the International Peace Cooperation unit.

The crown prince and the crown princess are better equipped to deal with the task of meeting those overseeing younger people as they themselves are younger, the agency said.

The imperial couple granted 270 audiences at the Imperial Palace last year and performed 75 official duties that also involved traveling to local areas.

The last change in their workload was in 2009 when it was decided that the emperor, in principle, does not have to deliver an address at every ceremony he attends.

(This article was written by Yasuhiko Shima and Akiko Tada.)