His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan underwent a successful four-hour heart bypass operation Saturday and hopefully should be fit to play tennis again, officials said amid lingering concerns over his declining health.
It was the first surgery for the 78-year-old Emperor since 2003 — when he had an operation for prostate cancer — after tests showed a narrowing of two of his coronary arteries.
His physicians, a team from the University of Tokyo hospital and the private Juntendo University, said the operation went without a hitch from the start at 11:01 am (0201 GMT) until the end at 2:57 pm.
The Emperor was awake before he left the operating room at 3:55 pm for the intensive care unit.
His wife Empress Michiko and their daughter Sayako Kuroda, a former princess who left the royal household to marry a commoner, visited him about an hour after he came to the ICU and had a brief chat, the palace said.
He might be discharged in two weeks, his doctors said.
“The operation ended smoothly as planned,” Minoru Ono, surgeon at the University of Tokyo, told a news conference.
“His blood pressure is good. No bleeding is seen. His condition after the surgery is just as expected,” he said.
During his recuperation, Emperor Akihito’s first son His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito will handle official duties such as attending public ceremonies and meeting state guests.
The monarch arrived at the hospital on Friday morning accompanied by Empress Michiko, who stayed with the emperor overnight.
Emperor Akihito walked to the operating room with his wife and daughter seeing him off at its entrance.
After his operation, the Empress and Kuroda saw him briefly and rubbed his hand.
“It feels good,” the emperor told them, according to Ono.
More than 10,000 people flocked to the Imperial Palace on Saturday to sign books wishing him well at a special tent set up outside the palace gates.
Local press reports had earlier stressed the surgery was a routine procedure that thousands of Japanese undergo every year. But, the surgery came amid increasing concerns about Emperor Akihito’s health.
A catheter angiogram taken a week ago showed that his arteries had continued to narrow since an examination a year ago, the palace said in a statement.
In November, Emperor Akihito, who acceded to the throne in 1989 following the death of his father Hirohito, spent 19 days in hospital with mild pneumonia and underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003.
His youngest son, His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino, has suggested there should be a discussion about setting a retirement age for the head of state.
Despite being stripped of much of its mystique and its quasi-divine status in the aftermath of World War II, the Japanese throne is held in deep respect by much of the public.
The palace will continue to consider ways to reduce Akihito’s duties, said Ichiro Kanazawa, the palace’s top medical supervisor.
“Fortunately, his heart has become better, so I am hoping that he will be able to play tennis again,” he said. “But, as for his work, we have to think of his age, which is not getting younger.”