End of Japan's Heisei era

Akihito steps down as Japan faces constitutional crossroads

With Japan's Emperor Akihito due to step down on Tuesday, Insight looks at what has led to the monarch's pacifist stance and how this has shaped his role as 'symbol of the State and of the unity of the People'

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko dancing with children at a Tokyo daycare centre in 2001. The royal couple modernised the tradition-bound monarchy and reached out to the public. An Asahi daily survey showed that over three-quarters of the Japanese
Emperor Hirohito with Empress Kojun and their son, then Crown Prince Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in the 1950s. In showing remorse for the war fought in the name of his father, Emperor Akihito became a symbol of peace, but experts say his legacy might be imperilled by the government's march towards nationalism. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Emperor Hirohito with Empress Kojun and their son, then Crown Prince Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in the 1950s. In showing remorse for the war fought in the name of his father, Emperor Akihito became a symbol of peace, but experts say his legacy m
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko dancing with children at a Tokyo daycare centre in 2001. The royal couple modernised the tradition-bound monarchy and reached out to the public. An Asahi daily survey showed that over three-quarters of the Japanese felt ''familiar'' with the imperial family. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In his debut address to the Japanese public after he ascended the throne in 1989, Emperor Akihito pledged to work "together with you to preserve the Constitution of Japan".

Thirty years later, Japan finds itself at a constitutional crossroads as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes no secret of his desire to revise the war-renouncing supreme law of the land.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 28, 2019, with the headline 'Akihito steps down as Japan facesconstitutional crossroads'. Print Edition | Subscribe