By Takaki Rikitake
The government considered inviting U.S. President Donald Trump as the first state guest of the new Reiwa Era since the early stage of preparations for the Emperor’s enthronement. Japan classifies visits by foreign guests into four categories: state visit, official visit, official working visit, and working visit. Only foreign heads of states and presidents are eligible for a state visit. Crown princes and prime ministers are only eligible for an official visit no matter how deep their relations with Japan are.
The reception of a state visit by the Emperor is regarded as an “official act” based on his symbolic position, not as a “state act,” which requires the cabinet’s advice and approval. But it is supposed to be conducted on the cabinet’s responsibility according to the intent of the Constitution. So the cabinet determines the reception and invitation of state guests.
Generally, the government carefully discusses which heads of states to invite as state guests several years in advance. The first state guest in the Heisei era was Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who visited Japan in October 1989. A government official says: “We had made arrangements several years in advance and did not expect the passing of Emperor Showa [which led to the start of the Heisei era]. So Zimbabwe happened to be the first.”
The Emperor holds a welcoming ceremony and hosts an Imperial banquet for a state guest, which could potentially place a heavy burden on him. So Japan only invited one to three state guests each year in the Heisei Era.