After he awoke from anesthesia following heart surgery on Feb. 18, one of his surgeons asked Emperor Akihito how he felt.
The emperor nodded and uttered a word in a husky voice that doctors interpreted as “Good.”
Much to the relief of a waiting nation and the team of surgeons, the four-hour operation for the 78-year-old emperor ended without complications.
Asked whether it was successful, however, the lead surgeon, Atsushi Amano, a professor at Juntendo University, said at a news conference in the University of Tokyo Hospital in Bunkyo Ward on Feb. 18, “We will be able to say so when he returns to his normal daily life.”
The Imperial Household Agency also said that it will take into consideration the emperor's physical condition in scheduling his official duties.
After the surgery, conducted by a joint medical team from the University of Tokyo and Juntendo University, ended at 2:57 p.m., Akihito was moved to an intensive care unit. Soon after 5 p.m., he met Empress Michiko and their eldest daughter, Sayako Kuroda.
The empress told him, “It was good (that the operation ended without problems).” Then, Akihito nodded while opening his eyes slightly.
Michiko and Kuroda stroked his hand. In response, he said, “That feels good.” The remark helped set everyone in the room at ease.
Immediately before leaving the ICU, the empress conveyed her gratitude to the members of the surgical team, and told her husband, “I will come (to this hospital) again tomorrow. Please take care of yourself.” She had been with him since the day before.
Akihito said, “Thank you.”
According to his medical team, if his recovery goes smoothly, the emperor will be able to stand early this week and will leave the hospital after two weeks.
After the surgery ended, the medical team was filled with relief.
“Without feeling pressure, we were able to conduct the operation smoothly, as we had always done before,” said Minoru Ono, professor at the University of Tokyo.
“The operation ended as we had expected,” said Ichiro Kanazawa, a senior Imperial Household Agency official in charge of medical affairs of the imperial families, at the news conference on Feb. 18.
Although Amano said it was too early to say that the surgery was successful, he added, “I am convinced that the day will come that the emperor will say, ‘(The result of the surgery) is good.’ ”
According to the Imperial Household Agency, 13,048 people visited centers set up at 12 places throughout the country to sign goodwill wishes for the emperor. One of them was Yuya Kawamoto, 35, a company employee from Chofu, Tokyo, who made an entry in a booking center at Sakashitamon gate of the Imperial Palace.
He said that he had been impressed when he saw the emperor’s smiling face as Akihito was greeting a crowd of New Year's well-wishers at the Imperial Palace.
“I hope that the emperor will leave the hospital as early as possible and show his smiling face again,” Kawamoto said.
Meanwhile, Kanazawa said that he will consider reducing the burden on the emperor from his official duties and rituals. At the Feb. 18 news conference, Kanazawa also expressed anxiety over Akihito being at risk for osteoporosis, a bone disease that involves thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density.
“Even if the emperor’s heart becomes good, his age will not become young,” Kanazawa said.
Even after Feb. 12, when it was decided that the emperor would undergo surgery, he continued to fulfill his schedule of official duties. On Feb. 16, the day before he was hospitalized, he met elementary school principals from throughout the country.
For the Imperial Household Agency, it has been a challenge for many years to reduce the workload on the emperor. When Akihito was 74 years old in 2008, he made a total of 80 visits in Tokyo and to local areas in a year. It was more than double that of Emperor Hirohito in 1975 when he was the same age.
In January 2009, the agency decided to lessen the emperor's workload. It reduced his number of speeches at events and meetings with visitors at the Imperial Palace. Rituals were also simplified.
Last year, however, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. Because of that, the emperor visited affected areas and evacuation centers for seven consecutive weeks.
“Through the practice (of those visits and other official duties), he is showing what the emperor as the symbol of the state is. We cannot ignore his stance of placing importance on his official duties,” said Shingo Hageta, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency.
When Akihito was hospitalized in November last year because of pneumonia in his bronchial tubes, the idea arose about reducing the emperor's official duties when he reaches a certain age, except for state acts designated under the Constitution.
The Imperial Household Agency will have to review the emperor's workload so that he can continue to fulfill as long as possible the official duties he places the most importance on, such as visiting areas affected by the March 11 disaster.
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