Emperor Akihito

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Photo by: Imperial Household/ EPA

Article by: William Tronsen

On August 8th, 2016, the Emperor of Japan posted a video on the Internet that shocked thousands of people around the world. The video took place at the Imperial Palace’s drawing room in Japan, and it lasted over eleven minutes (BBC). Emperor Akihito started his video by mentioning that it has been seventy years since the end of World War II, and in approximately two years, it would mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Heisei period (BBC). The emperor is now past eighty years of age and has been the figurehead of Japan for twenty-seven years. It was clear from his speech that he has been seriously considering his abdication for some time. Although Emperor Akihito’s abdication is uncertain, it is clear that the people of Japan are hoping for a positive outcome for their nation whatever takes place.

During the speech, the Emperor stated that he has not been able to attend public events due to his age, and he fears problems will arise due to his declining health. Towards the end of the speech, he stated that he wishes to step down from the throne shortly (BBC). According to the Kyodo News survey, over 87% of the people in Japan support the emperor’s choice of abdication (Japan Times, “Around 87%”); however, Emperor Akihito cannot abdicate immediately because Japanese law does not address abdication (Japan Times And Then); therefore, a new law for abdication must be created. The Abdication of Emperor Akihito will be a revolutionary event for Japan because only the death of a Japanese Emperor has allowed for successors in the past (Japan Times, “Lies”). According to the Japan Times, the Japanese Government is leaning towards a one-time special law for the emperor’s abdication allowing Emperor Akihito to be able to step down from the thrown allowing Prince Naruhito to become Emperor (Japan Times, “Lies”).

Prince Naruhito was born on February twenty-third, 1960 and has been bound to become Emperor Akihito’s successor since the day he was born (Japan Times, “And Then”). Although he would eventually become the Emperor of Japan assuming the death of Emperor Akihito, the abdication will mean that the timing of the succession will come earlier than expected.  However, there is a “lingering” problem.  Prince Naruhito does not have a son, a successor by Japanese law,  while Prince Fumihito does (Japan Times, “And Then”). Although the first born is always preferred, the son of Prince  Hisahito is also the first male heir to the throne for the Japanese Imperial Family born in the last forty-one years. Since Princess Aiko, the daughter of Prince Naruhito, is not eligible for the throne, Prince Fumihito must be the next successor if Prince Naruhito dies (Japan Times, “And Then”). According to the Japan Times, in 2006 Japan faced a crisis where no male heir would come after Prince Fumihito, and this was a huge issue for the Japanese people (Japan Times, “And Then”).

In Japanese tradition, females cannot become successors, but nowadays there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the possibility of an empress.  Before Prince Hisahito was born the two daughters of Prince Fumihito and the daughter of Prince Naruhito were next in line to take on the throne. But due to Japanese tradition, their daughters were not eligible to ascend the throne. As the number of female leaders are increasing in the world, feminism is hitting the global headlines. It may be time to reconsider traditional methods and let females also be able to succeed the throne.

Although the emperor has no political power, his existence has been crucial for the Japanese people. Emperor Akihito’s blood can be traced all the way to the first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu of the Yamato (BBC). This makes it vital that the chain of the Chrysanthemum Throne continues throughout the coming times.

Emperor Akihito has reigned for a long period of time, and although his attitude towards abdication was sudden, the people of Japan are working hard to follow the emperor’s wish towards abdication. It is clear that the people of Japan understand his opinion and are hoping for a positive outcome for the emperor and the people.