Two centuries of Japan’s tradition was broken on April 30, when a new emperor, Naruhito, became the first emperor to receive the sacred imperial regalia that represents his rightful succession to the world’s oldest monarchy.
Naruhito, 59, officially succeeded Akihito, 85, an enormously popular monarch who brought the royal family much closer to the people as he emphasized a message of peace in a country haunted by the legacy of war.
Emperor Akihito abdicated the Chrysanthemum Throne on April 29, three decades after he succeeded his father, the wartime emperor Hirohito.
The role of emperor has been chiefly ceremonial since the end of World War II. The departing monarch acted as the nation’s chief consoler during times of disaster, such as the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He sought to make amends throughout Asia for Japan’s wartime atrocities.
Conservatives balked at Akihito’s embrace of atonement, but his son is likely to continue to stress pacifism and war remembrance, as well as his father’s efforts to humanize the monarchy.
“In acceding to the throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the emperor emeritus and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement,” Naruhito said.
He added that he would work in service “of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them.”
As we reported in an earlier editorial on a story broadcast by “60 Minutes,” Japan is facing numerous challenges. The nation’s people are being overworked with many hours of overtime.
The birthrate is exceedingly low and the aging population is declining rapidly.
The nation is attempting to open itself to foreign workers and change the brutal, entrenched work culture and reduce gender inequality.
Under the country’s postwar Constitution, the emperor —once regard as a demigod — has no political power to address any of these issues directly, but he can set a tone.
Analysts have been scrutinizing Naruhito’s previous public statements for hints of what his reign might look like.
He was educated at Oxford University. His wife, Masako, a former diplomat, has a degree from Harvard. Together, they represent a cosmopolitan outlook in the often insular Japan.
In his limited public statements, Naruhito has indicated he believes the monarchy should adjust to modernity.
When Akihito took over the throne in 1989, it was after his father suffered a prolonged illness. Akihito, who was treated for prostate cancer in 2003 and underwent heart surgery in 2012, may have wished to avoid subjecting his son to a period of such limbo.
The United States should continue fostering its diplomatic friendship with its ally, Japan. America needs all the help it can gain in keeping the peace among the rapidly evolving nations in Asia, including North Korea and China.