Naruhito vows to share the people's joys and sorrows

Japan's Crown Prince aims to build on his parents' legacy when he ascends the throne

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako in a photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan.
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako in a photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Crown Prince Naruhito, who turned 59 yesterday, has vowed to build on his parents' legacy by being close to the people when he becomes emperor on May 1.

His father, Emperor Akihito, 85, and his mother, Empress Michiko, 84, have actively sought to bridge the distance between the monarchy and the commoner since assuming their roles in 1989.

In doing so, the Emperor has defined the role as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people" as stated in Japan's post-war Constitution. The soft power icon has also expressed remorse over the war that was waged under the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

Crown Prince Naruhito told a press conference last Thursday that he holds in solemn regard his upcoming role as emperor, saying: "I want to earnestly fulfil my duties by always being close to the people, and sharing with them their joys and sorrows."

While some right-wing conservatives continue to see the emperor as a demi-god and frown upon efforts to build ties with the public, the Crown Prince said he hopes for more chances to listen to the voices and concerns of the Japanese.

Emperor Akihito is set to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne on April 30, in the first abdication in 200 years.

This will mark the end of the Heisei (achieving peace) era, with the new era name set to be announced on April 1, a month before Crown Prince Naruhito becomes the 126th monarch in a semi-mythical unbroken hereditary lineage that dates back to 660BC. Emperor Akihito's decision to abdicate has given experts a rare head start in choosing the new era's name.

Last Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Crown Prince discussed domestic and foreign affairs in a rare meeting.

US President Donald Trump is set to be the first world leader to get an audience with the new emperor during a state visit planned for May 26. Some 2,600 guests, including foreign dignitaries, will attend the official coronation ceremony scheduled for Oct 22.

Crown Prince Naruhito, whose name comprises words that mean "benevolent" and "virtuous" in Japanese, said he sees building international goodwill as one of his most important imperial duties.

The emperor-in-waiting, who graduated with a history degree from Tokyo's Gakushuin University and has a doctorate in civil law from Oxford, said he wants to continue to update the imperial throne while upholding tradition as "a new wind blows with the new era".

He also noted as a matter of concern the shrinking imperial family. There are only 18 imperial family members, 13 of whom are women.

Princesses lose their royal status when they marry commoners and are barred from ascending the throne. There will be only three heirs when Prince Naruhito becomes emperor: his younger brother, Prince Akishino, 53; his nephew, Prince Hisahito, 12; and his uncle, Prince Hitachi, 83.

Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, 55, have a daughter, Princess Aiko, 17.

Crown Princess Masako, a former top diplomat, has been suffering from a stress-related disorder said to be the result of stifling restrictions imposed by the traditional household. But the Crown Prince, in seeking the public's understanding, noted that she has gradually been taking on more duties.

"She won't be able to do everything overnight even as the volume of her official duties increases with the change in her status," he said. "But with the warm wishes of the public and while watching her health, she is continuing her efforts to get better."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 24, 2019, with the headline Naruhito vows to share the people's joys and sorrows. Subscribe