Leading up to the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30, JAPAN Forward is taking the opportunity to reflect in pictures on pivotal aspects of the Heisei Emperor’s rule. This is the fourth of five installments:
- From Showa to Heisei
- Peace Prayer: A Japan Free of War
- In Disasters, Caring for the Afflicted and Never Giving Up Hope
- Diplomacy and Ceremony
- Looking to the Reiwa Emperor
Since he ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, Emperor Akihito has played immeasurably important roles in promoting friendship between Japan and other countries. In addition to diplomacy and other tasks visible to the public, the Emperor has been in prayer for the people’s peace of mind, fertility, and productiveness through rituals in the Imperial Palace.
The Emperor and Empress meet people from all walks of life — including government officials, local government leaders, businessmen, farmers and fishermen, social and welfare workers, scholars, and artists — at the palace, at audiences, teas, lunches, and dinners. They also host State Banquet events for visiting dignitaries.
While still Crown Prince and Princess, on behalf of the Showa Emperor, Akihito and Michiko visited 37 countries around the world, where they were greatly appreciated for their unassuming and genuine personality.
Since the Emperor’s enthronement, Their Majesties have made official visits to 28 countries, bringing to 51 the total number of countries they have visited.
In his final press conference on the occasion of his birthday on December 22, 2018, the Emperor shared his recollections on diplomacy during his years as Crown Prince and Emperor:
The following year (1953) I attended the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and I spent about six months before and after the Coronation visiting many countries. In the 65 years since then, thanks to the efforts made by the people of Japan, our country has taken steady steps forward in the world and has come to enjoy peace and prosperity.
Beyond visiting other lands, Emperor Akihito has been an active force of international cooperation and a major player in the healing of war memory with other countries.
To name but one example, the Japanese ruler visited the Philippines in January 2016, one of the many locations of fierce battles during the Second World War in which the Japanese army fought against American soldiers. The Emperor took the opportunity to reflect on how far both countries had come from the ravages of war. After recalling his earlier visit in 1962, he commented:
Last year Japan marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. During this war, fierce battles between Japan and the United States took place on Philippine soil, resulting in the loss of many Filipino lives and leaving many Filipinos injured. This is something we Japanese must never forget and we intend to keep this engraved in our hearts throughout our visit.
Your Excellency, under your sagacious and distinguished leadership, the Philippines is achieving steady development as a vital member of the Asian community. It was a great privilege to welcome you to Japan as a State Guest in the early summer last year, and the Empress and I have many pleasant memories of your visit.
It is our deepest hope that our visit will contribute to deepen the mutual understanding and friendly relations between the peoples of our two countries.
His first overseas trip as Emperor was to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia in September and October 1991.
Other notable examples among his many travels abroad include his tour of Central Eastern Europe in 2002 to countries that included Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria, where the local people warmly received the symbol of Japan’s authority. Yet it is likely to be the overseas visits Akihito made to the United Kingdom, tirelessly building better relations with the British monarchy, which stick in the public imagination.
Since the ancient times, the Japanese populace has been said to be an “irreplaceable treasure” of the country. In the post-war era, Article 1 of the Constitution extended this thought by providing that the Emperor “shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People.” In response, the people of Japan have wished for the continuity and stability of the Imperial family.
Emperor Akihito, 85, is set to abdicate the throne according to his own wishes on April 30 — thanks to a law specially enacted to permit him to step down after he expressed concern in 2016 that his physical condition would soon prevent him from carrying out his official duties.
For updates, features, historical notes, and discussions on this historical moment, Japanese bids goodbye to the Heisei era and welcomes the age of Reiwa, bookmark JAPAN Forward’s Special Coverage on your browsers and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.