Emperor Naruhito vows to be emblem of peace

Emperor Naruhito acknowledging the crowd as he arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. In his first public remarks since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne, he laid out his vision for his reign, noting how his father, Emperor Emeritus Akih
Emperor Naruhito acknowledging the crowd as he arrived at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. In his first public remarks since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne, he laid out his vision for his reign, noting how his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, "showed profound compassion through his own bearing".PHOTO: REUTERS
Emperor Naruhito, with Empress Masako beside him, giving a speech during a ceremony inside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. Emperor Naruhito is Japan's 126th ruler in the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.
Emperor Naruhito, with Empress Masako beside him, giving a speech during a ceremony inside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. Emperor Naruhito is Japan's 126th ruler in the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

59-year-old pledges to stand with the people as country ushers in first day of Reiwa era

Japan's newly minted Emperor Naruhito yesterday vowed to walk the path of his father Emperor Emeritus Akihito in fulfilling his role as the "symbol of the State and of the unity of the People".

This means "always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them", the 59-year-old said, in his first public remarks since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne.

He added his prayers for "the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation, as well as the peace of the world".

With the start of his reign, Japan yesterday rang in the first day of the new Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era that has been marked by a mood of cautious optimism over the chance to "reset" the stagnation and passivity which had come to define the Heisei (achieving peace) epoch, which ended on Tuesday.

Felicitations poured in from world leaders. US President Donald Trump, who will be the first world leader to get an audience with the new emperor later this month, said: "As the Japanese people embark upon a new era, we will renew the strong bonds of friendship between our two countries."

Chinese President Xi Jinping said as close neighbours with a long history, China and Japan should jointly promote peace and development. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, too, expressed hopes Emperor Naruhito will, as his father did, "remember the pains of war while taking firm footsteps towards peace".

Emperor Naruhito, whose name comprises characters meaning benevolent and virtuous, was introspective as he laid out his vision for his reign, noting how his father "showed profound compassion through his own bearing".

With his wife Empress Masako, 55, resplendent in a long white dress and a tiara standing next to him, he said: "When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity."

As Japan's 126th ruler in the world's oldest hereditary monarchy dating to 660BC, he also vowed to "bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement".

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "We look up to the Emperor as the nation's symbol, in our firm determination to foster a society where culture can be nurtured, where the people's hearts and minds are one, and where its people can take pride in a peaceful future that brims with hope despite the turbulent international environment."

Earlier yesterday, Emperor Naruhito inherited the jewel and the sword - two of Japan's Three Sacred Treasures, or imperial regalia - as well as the state and privy seals as proof of his accession to the throne.

Undergraduate Tetsu Senoo, 19, told The Straits Times that he hopes Emperor Naruhito will be an emblem of kindness and happiness to the Japanese, and of world peace to foreigners.

Japan's new emperor is a man passionate about water conservation, whose fondest recollections of his time at Oxford, from 1983 to 1985, involved pub visits, vinegar-soaked fish and chips, and a dorm room adorned with posters of American actresses Jane Fonda and Brooke Shields. He is an avid tennis player, enjoys mountain climbing, skiing and jogging, and can play the viola.

He once said his ideal princess was someone "who has definite opinions of her own". He had his eyes set on Empress Masako after they met at a tea party in 1986, doggedly wooing the former career diplomat over seven years and two failed proposals for marriage.

Since 2003, she has been struggling with stress-related depression - dubbed by palace officials as an "adjustment disorder" - that has led to questions over whether she can adapt to her role as empress.

She once disappeared from the public eye, but has gradually been taking on more public duties in recent years. She has said she is concerned about children in difficult situations, including child abuse victims and those living in poverty.

Her illness was in large part due to the overwhelming pressures to bear a son, and not having sensed genuine joy when she gave birth to her only child, Princess Aiko, now 17.

Princess Aiko will not be able to succeed her father due to her gender. Although Japan's imperial lineage is traced to a woman, the legendary Sun Goddess Amaterasu, and there have been eight empresses in history, a law in 1889 restricted only men to the throne.

Next in line is Emperor Naruhito's younger brother Crown Prince Akishino, 53, and then the Crown Prince's son, Prince Hisahito, 12. Emperor Emeritus Akihito's brother, Prince Hitachi, is technically third in line, but he is already 83 years old.

Some experts argue Japan needs stronger political will to relook the male succession law, which adheres to the romanticised myth of purity espoused by a vocal minority of right-wing conservatives.

While discussions were convened in 2005, these were quickly abandoned with Prince Hisahito's birth a year later.

Japanese entrepreneur Saaya Nakayama, 28, who was recognised by the Cartier Women's Initiative this year for her efforts to support women in the workforce, told The Straits Times that it is high time to relook traditions - no matter how longstanding - that hamstring the potential of women.

She is not alone: A poll by Asahi Shimbun showed that more than 75 per cent of Japanese are in support of a female monarch.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'Emperor Naruhito vows to be emblem of peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe