Japanese Emperor Calls for International Peace in Abdication Address

Sophia Lauer, Senior Editor

Japanese Emperor Akihito abdicated last Tuesday, April 30th, ending a thirty-year reign in the first abdication of a royal throne in over 200 years. In his abdication address, he expressed his gratitude for his supportive people and his hopes for a peaceful future.

Akihito, now 85, began his reign in 1989 intent on resolving painful memories of World War II and the Cold War, and bringing the monarchy closer to its subjects, especially those who were marginalized in society.

The Japanese throne, colloquially known as the Chrysanthemum Throne, became a symbolic representation of the people without real political power due to a post-war constitution. Akihito is the first emperor to reign after the constitution took effect.

Akihito is the son of Hirohito, under whose name Japanese troops fought in World War II. Until Japanese defeat in 1945, Hirohito was considered a living deity. Upon Japan’s defeat, he renounced his divinity.

“Together with the empress, I hope from my heart that the new Reiwa era that begins tomorrow will be peaceful and fruitful, and pray for the peace and happiness of our country and the people of the world,” said a solemn Akihito in reference to the new imperial era at his brief abdication ceremony in the Imperial Palace Matsu no ma (Hall of Pine). Akihito was joined by his wife of 60 years, Michiko, who was applauded for being the first commoner in Japanese history to marry an imperial heir.

About 300 people attended the ceremony which was broadcast live on television. They included 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.

“While keeping in our hearts the path that the emperor has walked, we will make utmost efforts to create a bright future for a proud Japan that is full of peace and hope,” Abe said ahead of the emperor’s remarks.

In a 2016 televised address, Akihito expressed concern about his age affecting his ability to perform his duties after having heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer.

Crowds gathered outside the Palace, a 285-acre compound in the heart of Tokyo protected by moats and walls, that is home to the emperor and empress. Security was tight as several thousand police officers were on duty in Tokyo, media reports said.

“I think the emperor is loved by the people,” said Morio Miyamoto, 48. “His image is one of encouraging the people, such as after disasters, and being close to the people. I hope the next emperor will, like the Heisei emperor, be close to the people in the same way.”

Akihito’s coronation in 1989 marked the beginning of the Heisei imperial era, a period so far marked by economic stagnation, natural disasters, and rapid technological advancement, accompanied with social change.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania offered their “heartfelt appreciation” to the royal pair in a statement.

Naruhito, 59, will inherit the throne in ceremonies on Wednesday. He studied at Oxford and together with his Harvard-educated wife, Masako, experts predict he will give the monarchy a more worldly flavor.

Akihito officially remained emperor until midnight of Tuesday night, when the new Reiwa era, meaning “beautiful harmony,” began. Japanese notation traditionally refers to the date by the era name, or “gengo,” a system originally imported from China, on documents, calendars and coins, but many people also use the Western calendar.