Emperor Akihito, Japan’s ‘Shocking Pacifist,’ Steps Down After 30 Years – NPR


Japan’s Emperor Akihito, with Empress Michiko, waves to well-wishers within the central Japanese prefecture of Mie on April 18. Emperor Akihito takes half in a sequence of rituals forward of his abdication.

Kazuhiro Ngoi/AFP/Getty Pictures

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Kazuhiro Ngoi/AFP/Getty Pictures

Japan’s Emperor Akihito, with Empress Michiko, waves to well-wishers within the central Japanese prefecture of Mie on April 18. Emperor Akihito takes half in a sequence of rituals forward of his abdication.

Kazuhiro Ngoi/AFP/Getty Pictures

Within the years instantly after World Warfare II, on the Friends’ College in Tokyo, a Quaker instructor named Elizabeth Vining favored to offer English names to her college students, all kids of the Japanese the Aristocracy.

“I used to be Eric,” remembers Masao Oda, certainly one of Vining’s former pupils.

His roommate and classmate, a boy named Akihito, was given the identify Jimmy. However Akihito pushed again.

“So he stood up and rejected this identify given by Mrs. Vining, ‘Jimmy,'” Oda remembers. “‘I am not a Jimmy, I am a crown prince,’ he stated.”

Akihito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989, succeeding his father, Emperor Hirohito. On Tuesday, he’s abdicating and stepping down, handing over the throne to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, and ending the postwar interval formally referred to as Hesei, “attaining peace.”

“A hatred of struggle”

Emperor Akihito was born in 1933, two years after Japan invaded Manchuria in northern China, in a prelude to its position in World Warfare II. Japanese troops fought within the identify of Emperor Hirohito. Crown Prince Akihito was anticipated to develop to change into the supreme commander of the nation’s army.

“He was educated and educated to be sturdy and difficult,” remembers Mototsugu Akashi, a childhood classmate of Akihito. “My impression of Akihito, at the moment, was that he was extra egocentric than form.”

Japanese Emperor Akihito Abdicates Throne; New Crown Prince To Ascend

Japan’s defeat in World Warfare II reworked younger Akihito right into a pacifist, Akashi says.

“That point produced in him sturdy emotions in opposition to struggle and its chaos. You would name it a hatred of struggle,” he says.

Akashi believes that the younger Akihito spoke in regards to the struggle along with his father, the emperor.

On Jan. 1, 1946, Emperor Hirohito declared he was a mortal, not a divine being. The next yr, Japan’s U.S.-drafted postwar structure took away sovereignty from the emperor and gave it to the Japanese folks, holding the monarch as a figurehead with out political energy.

The emperor’s position in trendy Japan is value a sturdy dialogue, says Takeshi Hara, a political scientist and knowledgeable on Japan’s imperial system on the Open College of Japan in Tokyo. The issue, he says, is that “even now, folks nonetheless welcome the emperor like a residing god. The emperor and empress attempt exhausting to speak to folks, however individuals are not prepared to speak to them as human beings. So the situations aren’t but ripe for discussing what the emperor’s position as a logo of the state must be.”

“A stunning kind of democrat”

Akihito, whose official duties have included conferring prizes and assembly visiting heads of state, has typically damaged with royal custom. He’s the primary Japanese emperor to have married a commoner. Empress Michiko, born Michiko Shoda, got here from a Roman Catholic household, a small minority within the nation. Akihito has stated that he needs to be cremated after his demise — a break with centuries-old traditions of burials in imperial mausoleums. And he has alluded to his personal Korean ancestry, to the dismay of Japanese nationalists.

The emperor, who writes quick poetry within the historical Japanese waka kind, is a well-liked determine identified for comforting and praying for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis and different disasters, and for visiting nations invaded by Japan throughout World Warfare II. Each overseas and at dwelling, he has expressed deep regret for Japan’s wartime actions.

Akihito’s pacifist views are believed to have created simmering, if unstated, tensions with a authorities that has tacked to the political proper, and desires to forged off postwar restraints on its army, authorities and monarchy.

Shinzo Abe, the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, has been much less prepared than earlier leaders to indicate contrition for Japan’s position in World Warfare II, angering nations together with China and South Korea, which Japan invaded and colonized.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Occasion has lengthy pushed to revise the nation’s U.S.-drafted structure in order that Japan may keep and use its army, improve the emperor to move of state (quite than image of the state) and prioritize public order over particular person liberties.

Akihito “has in some methods change into a stunning kind of democrat, a stunning pacifist, who shouldn’t be essentially feeling snug with the federal government of the day,” says political scientist Koichi Nakano at Sophia College in Tokyo. “And that kind of distrust can also be mutual.”

Male-only succession

After Akihito determined to step down, he took his message on to the Japanese folks in a televised tackle in 2016.

“Once I think about that my health degree is regularly declining,” Akihito stated, “I’m frightened that it might change into troublesome for me to hold out my duties because the image of the state with my complete being, as I’ve achieved till now.”

Opinion polls recommend that the overwhelming majority of Japanese residents help the emperor’s want to abdicate, seeing it as a smart resolution.

“I am getting previous, so I perceive how he feels,” says Mitsuko Yanagiya, in her 70s and visiting Tokyo from Japan’s northeast. “Ah, he is been working so exhausting. I would like him to have a relaxation, and go his duties on to the youthful technology.”

In pre-modern occasions, greater than 50 emperors abdicated, however that is the primary time within the trendy age (beginning within the mid-1800s) that a present and former emperor might be alive on the identical time. Hara, the political scientist, says that such conditions may, in principle, result in political instability. Historical past has proven that standard loyalties can change into divided between royals.

Japan’s Imperial Family Legislation stipulates that a new inheritor can solely ascend the throne after the demise of the present emperor. So in 2017, Japan’s parliament handed a regulation making a one-off exception for Akihito, leaving unsettled the query of whether or not future emperors can abdicate.

An equally essential query is whether or not girls might be allowed to inherit the throne. Presently the regulation forbids it, although Japan has had eight empresses all through its historical past. As soon as Naruhito ascends the throne, the imperial household might be all the way down to solely three royal heirs. Naruhito has a daughter however no sons, and the nation now faces a debate about whether or not to alter its male-only succession guidelines.

Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting to this story.

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