The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 22:22

A new era, a new Japanese Emperor

On May 1, Japan entered the new era “Reiwa” (beautiful harmony) when Crown Prince Naruhito ascended the Throne as the new emperor.

For more than 1,300 years has the name of a new era been deprived of Chinese classics. This time, however, it was not.

More than 70% of the Japanese public approved the new name, according to polls, while the majority also sees the new emperor as sympathetic.

While questions remain as of what role Emperor Naruhito will play in a changing Japan, he is the first emperor born after World War II.

Nikkei Business Daily wrote: “The world is changing and we are wondering how he will adjust his position and responsibilities to this new landscape”.

The day before, the Heisei era ended with his father Emperor Akihito becoming the first Japanese emperor in more than 200 years to abdicate.

Naruhito, who is currently 59 year’s old, is different in many ways compared to his predecessor who tends to be bound to tradition. Emperor Naruhito has consistently challenged expectations by prioritising his family and academic life.

In his first speech as emperor, Naruhito said that he felt the solemn weight of his position and vowed to be a symbol of unity for Japan.

Unlike his father Akihito, Emperor Naruhito had the chance to study and pursue his dreams when he was young.

He graduated with a history degree from Tokyo’s elite Gakushuin University, and from 1983 to 1985, he attended the Merton College at Oxford University.

During his time at Oxford, he studied the history of transport on the River Thames, underlining his interest in waterways that continued with his doctoral research at Gakushuin University.

His years at Oxford left a strong mark on the by-then Prince Naruhito. In his 1993 memoir, “The Thames and I“, he called the period as the happiest time of his life.

Thus, Naruhito continued to stay passionate about academia and global water issues even after his father ascended the throne in 1989 and he became crown prince.

He even held the position of honorary president of the United Nations’ Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation from 2007 to 2015.

Emperor Naruhito is also a devoted family man. He lived with his family until the age of 30 despite imperial tradition requiring upcoming emperors to be raised by their subjects. Though by the time he was born, family life was as important as the imperial tradition for him.

Especially when his wife suffered under a stress-related “adjustment disorder”, Crown Prince Naruhito would put family before duty.

His wife, Crown Princess Masako, a former diplomat, was diagnosed with the disorder due to the straining imperial life and the pressure to bear a son.

Later on, after his daughter Princess Aiko was born, Naruhito took an active role in raising his child and supported his wife by defending her from critique saying that he was neglecting her duties as a wife and crown princess.

While only men can ascend the throne in Japan, under the Imperial Household Law of 1947, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attempted to ease the law to relief Masako from her stress – proposing an allowance for an empress. Princess Aiko thus became subject of a wider discussion on imperial succession.

However, the plans slowed down after the birth of her cousin Prince Hisahito in 2006, as he would become the potential male heir in the future.

In his accession speech, Emperor Naruhito said that he would “bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors” – recognising the heavyweight his father had carried in his role as emperor.

I sincerely hope for the happiness of the people and further progress of the country, and for world peace,” he added.

All eyes will be on Emperor Naruhito who is suspected to push for the revision of the law to allow a Japanese empress.

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