Wednesday morning, upon accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne and following his father’s abdication, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito has pledged to “stand with the nation and maintain the unity of Japan” whilst embarking on a devoted path of self-improvement in a new era which is to become known as the Reiwa Era. His father, Emperor Akihito’s abdication comes after 30 years on the throne and in light of old-age and ill-health.
Emperor Akihito’s reign is synonymous with a period of stable society in Japan despite economic turmoil and natural disasters, and he is known for his closeness to the public. In the 85-year-old’s short statement to the people on Tuesday, Akihito thanked the people and prayed for the peace and happiness of all Japan.
“Today, I am concluding my duties as the Emperor.
I would like to offer my deep gratitude to the words just spoken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on behalf of the people of Japan.
Since ascending the throne 30 years ago, I have performed my duties as the Emperor with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people, and I consider myself most fortunate to have been able to do so. I sincerely thank the people who accepted and supported me in my role as the symbol of the State.
I sincerely wish, together with the Empress, that the Reiwa era, which begins tomorrow, will be a stable and fruitful one, and I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”
Outside of Japan, it is common to refer to the Japanese Emperor by their given name, however in Japanese culture it is considered impolite to refer to His Imperial Majesty by his given name until such a time where he is no longer a ruling emperor. Emperor Akihito will now be known as His Majesty Emperor Emeritus, which is a name that signifies retirement before the posthumous name can be given. Akihito’s is the first abdication of a Japanese Emperor in over 200 years, and most accessions to the throne occur due to the passing of the incumbent. Japan’s post-war constitution states that an emperor must ‘serve for life’, and so his abdication was no small feat – sources claim he’d been trying to pass on the duties to his son for 9 years. Traditionally, the posthumous name given to the Emperor is the name given to the Era in which he ruled – in Akihito’s case, Heisei, which means “achieving peace”.
Yesterday, in a separate address to the people, Naruhito, His Imperial Majesty The Emperor vowed to continue the duties of Emperor in earnest, and to reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus, and of emperors before him.
“When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity.
Looking back, His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus, since acceding to the Throne, performed each of his duties in earnest for more than 30 years, while praying for world peace and the happiness of the people, and at all times sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people. He showed profound compassion through his own bearing. I would like to express my heartfelt respect and appreciation of the comportment shown by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan.
In acceding to the Throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement. I also swear that I will act according to the Constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them. I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world.”
Emperor Akihito’s ability to connect with the people of Japan in times of disaster will surely be one carried forward by his son. A pacifist, Akihito has spent the last several years quietly questioning Japan’s increasing nationalist conservative movements and maintaining his ideals of post-war peace and individual choice. The role of Emperor is mostly symbolic, however in the case of Akihito, these characteristics earned him much respect from the people of Japan and strengthened the image of the Imperial Family at a time where Royal families across the world are becoming more and more separated from the democratic processes and citizens of their nations.
The Oxford educated Naruhito has throughout his time as Imperial Crown Prince contributed to the efforts of the World Water Council and the United Nations, giving keynote speeches at many of their annual events. His work surrounds the issues of disaster management and water infrastructure for development. Japan has long had universal water supply and sanitation, something that many of it’s neighbours in South East Asia have not yet achieved. Japan also lies at one of the most volatile points of the earth, where the North American, Pacific, Eurasian and Philippine tectonic plates come together creating many problems over the centuries with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
Naruhito takes the throne at a time where Japan is the third largest economy in the world. International relations are central to their trading relationships with other large economies, in particular the USA and China. The Emperor plays an important diplomatic role, and he intends to continue his ambassadorial duties in maintaining and forging peaceful relations. He also intends to continue his work in striving to provide global universal clean water and to promote diversity within Japan.
Japan has the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world, dating back to 660BC. To learn more about Japan’s Imperial Family, download and watch our episode of Empire Builders: Japan, or buy the DVD here!
Main image: Natalie Maguire, Imperial Palace, Flickr Creative Commons
By Sofi Pickering