END OF AN ERA
AS JAPANESE EMPEROR PREPARES TO ABDICATE
By Ken Ritter
Akihito and Empress Michiko Shoda
Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako
I am about to start on my third era in Japan marked by a historical event, the first abdication of an Emperor in over 200 years.
I arrived in Iwakuni in 1964, or “Showa” 39 by the Japanese calendar, (the 39th year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign), and I was driving to work at Atsugi in 1989 when the radio announced the death of Emperor Hirohito, ending the “Showa Era”, and the accession to the Throne of Emperor Akihito, starting the “Heisei Era”
For those of you who may not be aware of this, Japan is the only country in the world still using Chinese-style imperial calendars. It might be 2019 in much of the world, but officially, in Japan, it is Heisei 31, or the 31st year of Emperor Akihito’s reign.
Early this evening, Emperor Akihito will enter the imperial palace’s stateroom and, in the presence of the grand chamberlain, the prime minister, and other senior politicians, become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years.
At the end of a ceremony lasting just 10 minutes and steeped in the rituals of Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion, the Heisei era, which began with Akihito’s succession in January 1989, will come to an abrupt end.
Late tomorrow morning, his eldest son, Naruhito, will enter the same room and inherit a sword, a jewel, and a mirror – three “sacred treasures” said to have been bequeathed to the imperial line by the mythical sun goddess Amaterasu, and which serve as proof of his accession to the throne. In keeping with their mythological status, the regalia will remain hidden in boxes even when they are handed to the new emperor.
Shortly after, dressed in multiple layers of silk robes and a black headdress, the 126th occupant of the chrysanthemum throne will read a short statement setting the tone for his reign. The prime minister, Shinzō Abe, will welcome his accession on behalf of the Japanese people.
Naruhito’s reign will be called Reiwa, a term with multiple meanings, including “order and peace,” “auspicious harmony” and “joyful harmony,” according to scholars quoted in the local news media.
Naruhito is slated to become the 126th emperor of the world’s oldest monarchy.
The current imperial era known as Heisei — roughly translated as “achieving peace” — was chosen the day that Akihito’s father, the wartime emperor Hirohito, died.