The end of the Heisei era – looking back at the life of Emperor Akihito

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The early days

Akihito was born on 23 December 1933 in Tokyo, Japan, elder son and the fifth child of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kōjun (Nagako). Titled Prince Tsugu (Tsugu-no-miya) as a child, he was raised and educated by his private tutors and then attended the elementary and secondary departments of the Peers’ School (Gakushūin) from 1940 to 1952. (Source: Wikipedia)

Crown Prince

Akihito was heir-apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne from the moment of his birth. His formal Investiture as Crown Prince (Rittaishi-no-rei) was held at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on 10 November 1952. As an Imperial Prince, Akihito compared the role of Japanese royalty to that of a robot. He expressed the desire to help bring the Imperial family closer to the people of Japan. (Source: Wikipedia)

Emperor of Japan

Emperor Akihito during an annual New Year audience at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday, January 2, 2019. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)

Upon the death of Emperor Hirohito on 7 January 1989, Akihito acceded to the throne, with the enthronement ceremony taking place on 12 November 1990. According to the Constitution of Japan, Akihito is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” Unlike other constitutional monarchs, his function is defined as entirely representative and ceremonial in nature, without even a nominal role in government. He is limited to acting in matters of state as delineated in the Constitution, and even in those matters, he is bound by the requirements of the Constitution and the binding advice of the Cabinet. (Source: Wikipedia)

Royal Wedding


In August 1957, Crown Prince Akihito met Michiko Shōda on a tennis court at Karuizawa, near Nagano. The Imperial Household Council formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on 27 November 1958. At that time, the media presented their encounter as a real “fairy tale”, or the “romance of the tennis court”. It was the first time a commoner had married into the Imperial Family, breaking more than 2,600 years of tradition. The engagement ceremony took place on 14 January 1959, and the marriage on 10 April 1959. The Emperor and Empress had three children: sons Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (born 23 February 1960) and Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 30 November 1965) and daughter Mrs. Sayako Kuroda (born 18 April 1969). (Source: Wikipedia)

A journey of honor


Despite being strictly constrained by his constitutional position, he also issued several wide-ranging statements of remorse to Asian countries, for their suffering under Japanese occupation, beginning with an expression of remorse to China made in April 1989, three months after the death of his father, Emperor Shōwa. In June 2005, the Emperor visited the island of Saipan (part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory), the site of a battle in World War II from 15 June to 9 July 1944 (known as the Battle of Saipan). Accompanied by Empress Michiko, he offered prayers and flowers at several memorials, honoring not only the Japanese who died, but also American soldiers, Korean laborers, and local islanders. It was the first trip by a Japanese monarch to a World War II battlefield abroad. The Saipan journey was received with high praise by the Japanese people, as were the Emperor’s visits to war memorials in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa in 1995. Since succeeding to the throne, Akihito has made an effort to bring the Imperial family closer to the Japanese people. He and Michiko have made official visits to eighteen countries and to all forty-seven Prefectures of Japan. (Source: Wikipedia)

Towards abdication

People watch a large screen showing Japanese Emperor Akihito delivering a video message to the public in Tokyo, Japan on August 8, 2016. The 82-year-old Emperor announced his intention to abdicate in a rare televised address on Monday, expressing concerns about fulfilling his duties due to declining health. (Photo by AFLO)

On 13 July 2016, national broadcaster NHK reported that the Emperor intended to abdicate in favor of his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito within a few years, citing his age. An abdication within the Imperial Family has not occurred since Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. However, senior officials within the Imperial Household Agency denied that there was any official plan for the monarch to abdicate. Abdication by the Emperor required an amendment to the Imperial Household Law, which had no provisions for such a move. On 8 August 2016, the Emperor gave a rare televised address, where he emphasized his advanced age and declining health: this address was interpreted as an implication of his intention to abdicate. On 19 May 2017, the bill that would allow Akihito to abdicate was issued by the Japanese government’s cabinet. On 8 June 2017, the National Diet passed a one-off bill allowing Akihito to abdicate, and for the government to begin arranging the process of handing over the position to Crown Prince Naruhito. The Japanese government announced in December 2017 that Akihito would abdicate on 30 April 2019. (Source: Wikipedia)