Japan's Emperor Abdicates Throne

Apr 29, 2019 By Christina K, Writer
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For the first time in almost 200 years, a Japanese emperor is abdicating his throne.

Emperor Akihito, 85, will be stepping down from his 31 year reign–a period known as “Heisei” (achieving peace)–on April 30, 2019, due to his declining health. His eldest son, Prince Naruhito, 59, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1.

To celebrate the occasion, Japan’s spring break (the Golden Week) will extend from seven to ten days long!

Japan's Imperial Family

Japan's imperial family is thought to be almost 1500 years old, with every ruler descended from the same family. Japan's first emperor is said to be Emperor Jimmu who is believed to the descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. 

Currently, there are eighteen members of the Japanese Imperial Family, including Emperor Akihito. Although the emperor holds no political power, he holds official duties, such as greeting foreign dignitaries and maintaining contact with the citizens through public events. Japanese citizens treasure him as a symbol of Japan as well. 

When Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum throne, he will be the 126th emperor.

What Citizens Think

During the 1868 Meiji era, a condition stated that an emperor must die before his heir succeeds him.

The government, responding to the emperor’s concerns of his declining health (including his diagnosis of prostate cancer from 2003), passed a special one-time law to allow for him to step down. This makes Emperor Akihito the first in modern Japanese history to retire from his duties.

Some individuals have voiced their concern over the risks of dual authority–when political power is divided between two leaders. However, most of the Japanese public has been sympathetic to the emperor’s choice, and see his retirement not as a breach of tradition, but as a step for bringing the monarchy into the modern age.

The Ceremonies

On April 30, the first ceremony will be at the Imperial Palace's Seiden-Matsu-no-Ma; a room reserved for events of great importance–to mark Emperor Akihito’s abdication. First, the prime minister will give a speech explaining the reasons for the abdication. Then, the emperor would make his final address from the throne.

The ascension ceremony will take place on May 1 at the Imperial Palace. Only male adult family members will attend the ceremony for the ascension, while the female relatives will attend another ceremony half an hour later.

The retired emperor will hand over the three sacred treasures to Prince Naruhito: a duplicate of the sword (Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi), a necklace of stone beads shaped like commas (Yasakani-no-Magatama), and a mirror representing honesty (Yata-no-Kagami). The new emperor will also receive the privy, used for official duties, and state seals, which is the official state seal.

Then, Naruhito will give his first speech as an emperor to the public, pledging to protect the constitution and perform his duties. However, most of the ceremony, not including the speech, will be barred from public and media.

When Naruhito ascends the throne, his ruling period will be called “Reiwa” (Beautiful Harmony). He hopes to play a larger role in cultural exchange efforts and has also expressed interest in improving environmental issues. We can only expect the era of peace to continue in his reign.

Sources: Bloomberg, BBC, asia.nikkei.com, royalcentral.co.uk