The Straits Times says

An emperor for Japan in a new era

In a brief but colourful ceremony rich with tradition and symbolism, Japan's Emperor Naruhito declared his formal enthronement on Tuesday, six months after ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne following his father Akihito's abdication. Indeed, the keyword here is symbolism. Whereas his grandfather, Emperor Showa, was regarded as a descendant of the gods and the embodiment of sovereign power, he - like his father - is but the "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people". Japan's Emperor today is a ceremonial head of state without nominal political powers, unlike other constitutional monarchs. This change came about after Japan lost the Pacific War in 1945 and adopted a pacifist Constitution.

Still, with its long history and deep bonds with Japanese society - Emperor Naruhito is the 126th monarch in a line stretching back some 2,700 years - the monarchy has and can stay relevant with continual adaptation and modernisation. This is what Akihito, now Emperor Emeritus, had done in his three decades as monarch: effect changes to stay in tune with the times. Whereas the monarchy during his father's time was used by the then militaristic government to rally the Japanese behind its military adventures in the region, Emperor Akihito used his position, within the new constraints, to heal war wounds. He travelled the region to pray for the war dead including victims of the Japanese Imperial Army, and expressed deep regret and pain for the victims. He created a new role for himself as emperor - that of a chief emissary for reconciliation for his nation, as described by analysts. At home, he drew the monarchy, for so long a remote entity to ordinary Japanese, closer to the people. He broke with tradition to visit disaster zones, kneeling before the victims as he and Empress Michiko offered them words of consolation. He also married a commoner against opposition from traditionalists.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2019, with the headline 'An emperor for Japan in a new era'. Print Edition | Subscribe