Their majesties Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako visited Indonesia as state guests for a week from June 17-23. This was their first goodwill visit to a foreign nation since the emperor ascended the throne and opened the Reiwa era.
It was also the emperor's first overseas trip since the late Queen Elizabeth II's funeral in the United Kingdom in September.
The Empress' Smile
Initially, there were concerns about whether Her Majesty the Empress' health would permit her to travel. Fortunately, however, Their Majesties were able to make the trip together. The imperial couple appeared naturally at ease throughout. Empress Masako's occasional smiles were particularly charming.
This was the first time in about 21 years that the couple had visited a foreign country for international goodwill. Their last goodwill visit was to Australia and New Zealand in 2002.
The empress was often absent from official duties during her time as crown princess. However, as a Japanese citizen, I am overjoyed at how cheerfully and gracefully she has comported herself as empress. I believe this is due to the emperor's support over the years. He has my utmost respect.
Shortly after the emperor ascended the throne, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, severely restricting the imperial couple's official activities. More than three years passed without any imperial trips abroad or domestically in Japan. One can only imagine how emotional this goodwill visit must have been for both of them.
This year marks the 65th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and Indonesia. It is also the 50th Year of friendship and cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan.
Distinguishing 'Reiwa Style'
As this was the first goodwill visit of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, there was much speculation about their "Reiwa style." What would their goodwill efforts look like?
During their visit to Dharma Persada University, Their Majesties engaged in a discussion on the future with the students. The emperor commented to one student who liked the anime "Naruto," "My name is Naru-HI-to. No relation."
His Majesty's well-delivered joke and Her Majesty's burst of laughter have received much coverage. Speaking without distinction and lightening the atmosphere with a joke testify to the emperor's kindness and consideration.
Breaking Away from Apologies
There are several points to note about this goodwill Reiwa style. Emperor Akihito's visits to Asia were always characterized by references to World War II. However, according to Kyodo News, Emperor Naruhito made no mention of the war in his meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during his recent visit to the region.
During his October 1991 visit to Indonesia, Emperor Akihito referenced World War II in his speech at the banquet. This time, however, the hosts suggested that there not be an exchange of words "making for a more convivial affair."
In his pre-departure press conference, Emperor Naruhito did make a reference to the war. However, there has been no criticism in either country regarding his lack of official mention of the war while in Indonesia.
A Generational Change
This hints at a new form of international goodwill born from generational change. I believe that this is the result of the trust that has developed between the two peoples. The close relationship between the current and former imperial couples and the peoples of Southeast Asia sowed this trust. Japan's contribution to the development of the region after the War has also been a significant factor.
Upon returning to Japan, Their Majesties spoke of "the potential of the younger generation in the friendship and cooperation between our two countries." The emperor said, "It is our hope that they will expand their interest in one another's countries. We believe they can play a major role in further deepening mutual understanding and friendly cooperation between our two nations."
Their Majesties' visit to Indonesia was symbolic, representing the future the younger generations of both countries will forge together.
Carrying On the Memorial Visits
Much media attention has focused on this "Reiwa style" of international goodwill. However, it is worth noting that Their Majesties have also continued the tradition of memorial visits. This tradition was established by Emperor Showa and Emperor Emeritus.
During the Indonesia visit, a memorial service was held at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery. Approximately 9,700 soldiers who died in the War of Independence with the Netherlands are buried there. The couple's solemn appearance at the service was strikingly similar to that of the former emperor and empress.
Their Majesties offered a silent prayer for nearly two minutes at the Cenotaph. They followed it with a flower offering. Two minutes is quite a long time for a silent prayer. Many people were moved by the sincere respect Their Majesties showed towards the fallen heroes.
Also buried in this cemetery are 28 Japanese soldiers who remained in Indonesia after the war and fought with Indonesians in the War of Independence. Many of them were killed in action and treated as stateless until the 1960s. That was despite their significant contribution to Indonesia's independence.
Prior to the memorial service, Their Majesties met with the descendants of these Japanese soldiers. The Empress reportedly said, "Tomorrow, I will offer flowers with all my heart."
It is quite significant that Their Majesties chose to draw attention to the lives and deeds of these Japanese soldiers. I would like to express my sincere respect for Their Majesties' acknowledgment of the past as they look toward the future.
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(Read the article in Japanese.)
Author: Tsuneyasu Takeda