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Japan Enters a New Era

The Next Emperor: How Prince Naruhito Prepares to Become the ‘Symbol of the Nation’




(Second of Three Parts)


Part 1: Interview with Emperor-in-Waiting: Public Servant in Step with the Times


Ahead of his 58th birthday, on February 23, the Crown Prince of Japan invited the press for a conference at his official residence in the Tōgū Palace. JAPAN Forward is running a three-part series from that interview.



Part 1 covers how the Crown Prince made the first public indication of his thoughts on the upcoming imperial succession following the official announcement of the date of his enthronement ceremony, scheduled for May 1, 2019.



In Part 2 below, we ask the Crown Prince when he first came to realize he would become Emperor someday, and about his family’s thoughts and preparations.




I would like to ask about your family. Your Highnesses celebrated your 25th wedding anniversary this year. How will Princess Masako be spending her final year before the changeover? Please tell us about what she plans to do after becoming Empress and changes that Your Highness has sensed. Also, how is Princess Aiko doing as a second-year high school student, and what sort of discussions are your family having about the future?


As I noted after our 20th anniversary, the days and months seem to fly by, and I am deeply moved to realize that we have now passed 25 years together since our marriage. I once again express my gratitude to have Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress warmly watching over our family every day and to receive their guidance.


I am also grateful that we have received the assistance of many people who helped us reach this quarter-century mark. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Japan who have expressed their warm feelings towards the three of us.


Princess Masako has been continuing to receive medical treatment this past year, and through her effort and dedication, while taking care of her condition, she has been trying to do as much as possible both in public and private life. As a result, she has steadily expanded her public activities, including attending public events, such as ceremonies in Tokyo, and making six trips to various parts of the country. As she has built up her confidence, the breadth of her activities has expanded further. For both Masako and for myself, these have been very happy developments.



Over the next year, Masako will continue her effort and dedication while taking care regarding her condition. In doing so, I think she will continue her progress towards recovery. Regarding her public activities, I hope that when the occasion arises she will be able to increase them bit by bit.



However, as the Tōgū Palace physicians also indicated last year, while Masako is recovering steadily she still has a long way to go. There are high and low points in her physical condition, so I would like to see her carefully broaden the scope of her activities without having to rush anything. We would like to thank the public for the warm feelings you have expressed towards Masako so far, and we hope you will continue to warmly watch her recovery.


As for Princess Aiko, she has been taking new steps since last April as a student at Gakushuin Women’s High School. She is surrounded by many friends and teachers there, and she seems to find her high school life fulfilling.



Her interests are broadening in many directions, and she shows interest in many things, including her studies, sports, and society. When visitors come to the Tōgū Palace from foreign countries, there have been a growing number of opportunities for Aiko to practice her English, and she is expanding her interest in foreign countries.


Prospectively, I expect that Aiko will begin to think about her future as she enters the upcoming stage of her high school years. Both Masako and I would like to hear from Aiko herself about her hopes and consult together with her about her future. I hope she will be taking advice from many people around her from now on, growing in experience and proceeding down the path that she wishes to take in life.


Regarding the changeover and the shrinking of the royal family, would you be willing to tell us what sort of discussions you have had with the present Emperor and Prince Akishino regarding the division of your future public duties? Some have expressed misgiving about a doubling up of authority with the coexistence of an Emperor and Retired Emperor, but what does Your Highness think about this?



Regarding the performance of public duties, as I said previously, when the occasion calls for it, Prince Akishino and I have asked for His Majesty’s thoughts and exchanged opinions with him. We are grateful for such a meaningful opportunity.


I must refrain from giving details, such as where we met and what we spoke about, but I have learned much from having His Majesty share with me his thoughts and his experiences, and I am extremely grateful to have been able to do so.


Prince Akishino has also had the opportunity to discuss various matters with His Majesty, including the performance of public duties, and we would like to continue to have such opportunities in the future.


His Majesty together with Her Majesty the Empress have met with various people in places inside and outside of the country, and they have been sincerely committed to their public duties. I believe it is natural that Their Majesties will continue to be beloved by the many people who have been able to see them.



Just as His Majesty has been able to put his full body and spirit into the performance of duties as symbol of the nation, I firmly accept the public duties that will be handed on to me, and I would like to work seriously on each of them.


When His Majesty the Emperor was a first-year student at Gakushuin High School, his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Vining, asked him what he wanted to be in the future. He is said to have responded in English, “I will be the Emperor.” At what age did Your Highness realize that you would become the Emperor in the future? What was the occasion that caused you to realize this?


I have been fortunate to have been able to grow up under the grace of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, and we have had opportunities to see each other ever since I was little. I am truly grateful for this. I was able to observe the work of Their Majesties and I sometimes accompanied them when they left the palace for work or other reasons. For example, we watched interscholastic events together, and I participated in public occasions alongside Their Majesties, such as Boy Scout Jamborees and concerts by foreign artists.



Being born into this position while observing the work of Their Majesties, bit by bit I too came to realize that I would become Emperor someday. It is very difficult for me to answer when exactly I came to that realization or how I felt about it, but I would like to say that such feelings gradually came to my mind.


(To be continued)


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)



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