85-year-old monarch first to step down in more than 200 years
Japan is a timeless empire, which is a perfect fusion of ancient tradition with modern life. Today marks the end of the “Heisei” era, which means “achieving peace” as Emperor Akhihito abdicates the Chrysanthemum throne. Akihito was born on 23 December 1933, in the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan. He is the elder son and the fifth child of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kōjun (Nagako).
What makes the Japanese Monarchy so important?
It’s the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. Legends and records date it back to about 600 BC. Japan was founded in 660 BC by Emperor Jimmu, who was said to be a direct descendant of the sun-goddess Amaterasu. Japanese emperors used to be seen as gods until the country’s previous emperor Hirohito was forced to publicly renounce his divinity at the end of World War Two, as part of Japan’s surrender. The emperor in Japan holds no political power but serves as a national symbol. It was Emperor Akihito, the son of the last deity, who helped repair the damage to Japan’s reputation after the war.
Currently, the Emperor of Japan is the only head of state in the world who holds the title of Emperor.
The legacy of Emperor Akihito
Akihito redefined the role of an emperor, breaking many imperial norms. Previous emperors rarely interacted with the public. For instance,when people had heard emperor Hirohito’s voice for the first time , when he made a radio address surrendering in 1945 despite 20 years of power. In 1991, two years after he ascended the throne, Akihito and the empress broke norms and knelt down to speak to people affected by a volcanic eruption in Nagasaki. His interactions with people suffering from chronic diseases such as leprosy, who have been marginalized in Japan, made him “People’s Emperor”.
The emperor has made it his job to reach out to Japan’s former enemies and victims. From Beijing to Jakarta, Manila to Saipan, he has sought to heal the wounds inflicted under his father. “He created a new role for the emperor, and that is the nation’s chief emissary for reconciliation, criss-crossing the region, making gestures of atonement and contrition. Basically, trying to heal the scars of wartime past,”.
He was also the first Japanese Emperor to marry a commoner, speak to his subjects live on television and to be hands-on in raising his children.
Retirement for Royalty
The post-war constitution makes it clear emperors are to serve “for life”. So, the politicians ignored the emperor’s requests.Then NHK (Japan’s national broadcaster), broadcast news of the emperor’s request, which broke headlines. A month later the emperor went on TV again to appeal directly to the Japanese people, explaining his desire to retire and hand the throne to his son. Majority of Japanese supported the emperor’s wish. Thus the Prime Minister and the conservatives complied. It’s been little over two years, but Emperor Akihito will finally be able to step down.
Next in Line
Prince Naruhito is set to become Japan’s 126th emperor – and will officially lead the country into the new Reiwa era. The 59-year-old Naruhito attended Oxford University and became crown prince at the age of 28. He married Crown Princess Masako Owada in 1993. The couple’s only child, Princess Aiko, was born in 2001. However, Japan’s law restricts females from inheriting the throne so she is not her father’s heir. Her uncle Prince Fumihito is first in line to the throne, followed by her cousin, 12-year-old Prince Hisahito.