After three fraught decades, Japan’s Emperor Akihito announced on Tuesday his abdication, ending a state in which he sought to alleviate the painful memories of World War Two and bring the imperial family closer to the people.
The abdication ceremony was a short one at a sacred place within the imperial palace. It was broadcasted live on television and 300 people attended including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Crown Prince Naruhito, and Crown Princess Masako, as well as the heads of both houses of parliament and Supreme Court justices. The ceremony was held to glorify the goddess of the sun; the myth says that the imperial dynasty descends from it.
The Reasons behind the Abdication
The 85-year-old emperor had surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and a heart bypass operation in 2012; he stated in a speech in 2016, that he is not sure if he can properly commit to his duties as an emperor due to his age and declared his strong desire to step down. Later, opinion polls showed that the vast majority of Japan sympathized with the emperor and a year later the parliament enacted a law allowing him to abdicate to become the first Japanese emperor to step down in 200 years.
Akihito, 85, is the first emperor of Japan to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne, in 1989, under the post-World War Two constitution, which defines the emperor as a symbol of the people without political authority. He is the son of, Emperor Hirohito, who ordered the Japanese troops to enter the World War Two, and was considered a “living God” even after the defeat of Japan in 1945, when he gave up his sacred position.
60 years ago, Akihito got married with Michiko to be the first commoner to marry an imperial heir. Together they played an active role as a symbol of reconciliation, peace, and democracy.
One of his popular sayings: “I want to earnestly fulfill my duties by always being close to the people, and sharing with them their joys and sorrows.”
It’s noteworthy that Prince Naruhito, the first heir, will be Japan’s 126th emperor to officially lead Japan into the new Reiwa era*, to start today midnight.
*It means “the beautiful harmony”. Japanese traditionally adopts a system originally imported from China, on documents, calendars and coins but many people also use the Western calendar.