The End Of An Era

May 3, 2019

Imagine being born knowing that one day you’d have to take on the responsibilities of being the symbolic leader of your country. That’s the destiny of the first born son (or in some cases daughter) of most monarchies, and it’s certainly a huge responsibility. Now, what if on top of that responsibility, you’re also tasked with changing the perception of your country years after a painful world war? Talk about pressure, right?

TOKYO, Japan (April 24, 2014) U.S. President Barack Obama participates in the welcome ceremony with their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Imperial Palace during his state visit to Japan. [State Department photo by William Ng/Public domain]
Thirty years ago, the people of Japan watched as Akihito accepted the sacred sword, beads, and mirror of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu after the death of his father Emperor Hirohito. He would be formally crowned the Emperor of Japan nearly two years later and ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Whether the people of Japan knew it or not, Emperor Akihito would become the “Human Emperor” as many respectfully knew him, and fulfill the promise of bringing peace during his reign. It wasn’t easy, but Emperor Akihito gracefully led the country through tough times (there were fifteen different prime ministers through the first two decades of his reign, a financial crisis, and two deadly earthquakes). At times, Emperor Akihito even broke from tradition in order to humanize the monarchy. After a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, Emperor Akihito made a pre-recorded televised speech and encouraged the people of Japan to “never give up hope, take care of themselves, and live strong for tomorrow.” And unlike his ancestors, he reached out to people directly by visiting those who were displaced by the disaster, putting a human face to an otherwise untouchable god-like monarchy. Needless to say, Emperor Akihito was well liked.

Earlier this week, Emperor Akihito officially abdicated (or stepped down) as Emperor of Japan, and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, officially ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne. It was the end of the era for “achieving peace,” or the Heisei Era, and the start of the Reiwa Era, or the era for “beautiful harmony.”

The people of Japan are marking Akihito’s retirement and Naruhito’s ascension to the throne with a ten-day holiday. Here at Xyza, we’re sharing a few interesting facts about Akihito to mark this historic occasion.

-Akihito is the first Japanese Emperor to abdicate from the throne in 200 years.
-By the time Emperor Akihito was twenty-one years old, a list of approximately 800 potential candidates for marriage was already compiled. (You have to ensure that the monarchy continues to thrive, right?) Despite all this preparation and hundreds of potential mates, Emperor Akihito decided to go with his heart and chose to marry a commoner named Michiko. He was the first crown prince in the history of Japan to ever marry a commoner. Akihito married Michiko in 1959, and when Akihito became Emperor of Japan in 1989 and officially ascended to the throne in 1990, Michiko became Empress of Japan.
-The Chrysanthemum Throne dates back to 660 BC, making it the oldest hereditary monarch. What does this mean? It means that the throne has been passed down through direct blood lines. Emperor Akihito was the 125th Emperor of Japan and is a direct descendant of Emperor Jimma, Japan’s first emperor.
-While Japan’s monarchy is just symbolic and doesn’t have direct political power over the country, Emperor Akihito nevertheless served as an unofficial Ambassador of Japan.
-The Japanese monarchy are considered direct descendants of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami.
Here’s to a happy and peaceful retirement, Akihito!