The Emperor deserves profound gratitude for sincerely fulfilling his official duties over a period of more than 30 years and continuing to embody his status as the symbol of the state.
The Emperor is set to abdicate the throne on Tuesday. The change in the Imperial reign due to abdication takes place for the first time in about 200 years, since the abdication of Emperor Kokaku in the latter stage of the Edo period (1603-1867). The Emperor’s abdication is the first of its kind to take place in the nation’s constitutional history.
After his accession to the throne in 1989, the Emperor stated that he will “defend the Japanese Constitution together with you all, and perform my duties in line with this.” He has since searched for an appropriate style of serving as the symbol of the state, which is prescribed by the Constitution.
In hinting at a wish to abdicate in a video message in 2016, the Emperor cited his duties derived from the throne, such as “praying for the peace and happiness of the people” and “standing on the side of the people on some occasions, listening to their voices and empathizing with their feelings.”
True to his own words, the Emperor has actively performed his duties. He has been dissimilar from Emperor Showa in this respect, as the late emperor did not speak actively about his symbolic status. Accordingly, the Emperor has established his own style as a symbol of the state. It is safe to say that his stance has been widely loved and respected by the people.
On frequent visits to provincial areas, the Emperor has strived to give concrete form to his status as the national symbol. He has made two rounds of visits to all prefectures, attending national athletic meets among other events.
The Heisei era has been marked by a succession of disasters. The Emperor has visited areas hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other disasters, and he has exchanged words with afflicted people, kneeling to speak with them. He has also been eager to offer support to disabled people and sufferers of Hansen’s disease through meetings with them.
He looks each person in the eye and cherishes the contact he has with others. Even when he does not travel, the Emperor personally addresses the public, as he did after the Great East Japan Earthquake through a video message.
There is no doubt that his stance has made the Imperial family close to the public. This is understood to have encouraged the people, as a result of which stability in society has been brought about.
The Emperor has a strong desire for peace, and he has made great efforts to console the souls of those killed in World War II. The destinations of his visits not only included such places as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He even visited islands south of Japan, such as Saipan and Palau, where many Japanese officers and soldiers died.
The Emperor has shown compassion for the people of Okinawa Prefecture, among others, where a large number of people fell victim to the war. The Emperor and Empress have visited the prefecture on a total of 11 occasions, including when he was crown prince, and he referred to the sufferings of the prefecture many times.
The postwar peace and prosperity have come with a debt to the war dead. The Emperor, who was 11 years old when the war ended, seems to have always entertained such a feeling.
On occasions of international goodwill, the Emperor worked to advance Japan’s friendly ties with other countries through a multitude of visits to foreign countries and meetings with guests of honor. Included among them were former adversaries and colonies of Japan.
The amicable relations with foreign countries built by the Emperor must be handed down to the next generation as an asset that needs to be fostered.
Empress’ great support
It is the Empress’ presence that has been a great support for the Emperor in assuming his duties. The Empress, formerly a commoner, has displayed her gentleness to people from all walks of life. She accompanied the Emperor on many occasions of his official duties.
The appearance of the Imperial couple living harmoniously may have renovated the image of the Imperial household, which had sometimes seemed unapproachable to the people.
Both the Emperor and Empress have also breathed fresh life into how the Imperial family should be. During the period when they were crown prince and crown princess, they raised their children under their own gaze. The Emperor underwent an operation for prostate cancer and surgery on his heart, and the basic information regarding the operations was made public.
It has also been announced that their burial method is to be changed from interment to cremation and the scale of their Imperial mausoleums will be smaller than previous ones. They have assumed a historic role in that they have demonstrated that even the Imperial family can change flexibly while maintaining traditions.
This abdication was decided on after the Emperor expressed his feelings that in light of a decline in his physical strength, it may become difficult for him to carry out his duties as the symbol of the state. Most of the people, while surprised at the feelings he expressed, felt empathy for the Emperor.
The government and the Diet passed into law a special measures bill on abdication, which allows the Emperor’s abdication as an exception. This can be considered as a result of prudent and careful responses made to avoid political conflict so that the law does not infringe on the Constitution, which prohibits an emperor from having powers related to government.
Stable succession key
The Emperor has prayed that the duties of the emperor as the symbol of the state will continue without ceasing and in a stable manner. How the Imperial succession should be is a task that also needs to be considered in the future.
Upon the abdication, the Emperor will lead his life at a leisurely pace as joko Emperor Emeritus. Also, being a biologist, he will have sufficient time for his research, while the Empress, as jokogo Empress Emerita, will have more time than ever before for reading literature.
While I hurried back home after work
The moon cast a white light on the way
This is a tanka, or short Japanese poem, composed by the Emperor in 2007. From now on, the Emperor will no longer be pressed with duties. We would like to pray for the Emperor and Empress to lead a healthy life as long as they live.