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Emperor Naruhito: The son rises

An era has ended in Japan in parallel with the start of a new chapter as the 1st of May unfolded… when the rest of the world was purportedly celebrating liberation.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

An era has ended in Japan in parallel with the start of a new chapter as the 1st of May unfolded… when the rest of the world was purportedly celebrating liberation.

In terms of historiography, both the event and the process ~ two very different constructs ~ were palpable during the ten-minute ceremony in Tokyo on Tuesday evening.

More accurately perhaps, at the ripe age of 85, Emperor Akihito, after a 30-year reign, scripted history when he handed over the Chrysanthemum Throne together with the ritualistic transfer of an ancient sword and sacred jewel to his eldest son, Naruhito ~ verily the first abdication by a monarch that the nation has witnessed in 200 years.

Historians will record the abdication and the assumption of power as a watershed moment. It really is. Japan showcases a refreshing contrast to the intrigues and jousts within royalty in Saudi Arabia, not to forget the bloodshed in the palace at Kathmandu (1 June 2001).

As the outgoing Emperor prayed for “peace and happiness of all the people in Japan and around the world”, he could scarcely have been more gracious as he took the bow in Matsu no Ma (Room of Pine) of the imperial palace. His farewell message wasn’t merely addressed to the people of Japan; its import was bathed in symbolism as it was conveyed to the world in the wider canvas.

The ceremony marks the profound transition to the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era. It is testament no less to the historical significance of the two-in-one event that popular enthusiasm in Tokyo was scarcely dimmed by what Yomiuri Shimbun has described as “near-constant rain”.

Hundreds of thousands had assembled in the vicinity of the palace to bear witness to the choreography of history, a pointer to the remarkable bonding of royalty with the people. By any reckoning, it was an occasionally difficult tenure for the Emperor.

As much is the fineprint of the compliments conveyed by the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who has thanked Akihito and Empress Michiko for their decades of service, underlining the fact that the couple had “stood by the people, giving them courage and hope” in the aftermath of several natural disasters that had struck Japan during his reign.

“The couple had shared in the joys and sorrows of the Japanese people.” Akihito is the first Japanese monarch who has spent his entire reign stripped of political influence under the country’s post-war Constitution. If laughter and tears go together, Tuesday evening was in equal measure marked by joy and sorrow in Japan.

As Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne, he must be acutely aware that he succeeds to an exceptional legacy, almost unrivalled anywhere in the world. Japan’s royalty can boast the warm regards and affection of the people, something many contemporary rulers would be proud of, but few able to claim.