Yesterday was a national holiday in Japan: The Emperor's Birthday. It was a special one, too. The Emperor of Japan was 80 years old. Traditionally, on the Emperor's Birthday, December 23, the Imperial Palace, normally closed to the public, is opened up and thousands of people throng into the palace grounds, where they wait under a balcony for the Emperor and his family to appear. I don't remember the former Emperor ever addressing the crowd, but Emperor Akihito does. After his speech, the crowd waves little Hinomaru flags and the Imperial family wave to the crowd. Millions of Japanese watch these proceedings on TV. (By the way, the only other time you can get into the palace grounds is on January 2 each year, as a part of the New Year festivities.) This year was no exception, and it was estimated that around 2,300 people braved the bitter cold to wave to the Imperial Family.
|Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to the|
crowd on his 79th birthday, December 23, 2012.
Here are some pictures of this year's celebrations:
|Crown Prince Naruhito, Emperor Akihito, Crown Princess Masako|
and Empress Michiko stand on the balcony to receive well-wishes from the crowd.
|Left to right, the Crown Princess and Crown Prince, the Emperor and Empress, |
Prince Akishino (Fumihito) and his wife Princess Akishino (Kiko) and their daughter
|The Empror, 80, waves to the crowd.|
|The crowd waves back and shouts, "Banzai"|
|The Japanese people congratulate the Emperor on his 80th birthday.|
|Imperial Standard of the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan|
Emperor Akihito is considered to be the 125th emperor of his line, and a direct lineal descendant of The Sun Goddess. He is currently the only remaining monarch whose title is that of Emperor. The Imperial House of Japan is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. According to the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the most ancient historical records, the Empire of Japan was established in the year now known as 660 B.C. by the very first Japanese monarch, Emperor Jimmu.
|The Emperor with Empress Michiko in kimono. She likes|
to wear white, but she can never wear a white kimono
because in Japan they dress dead bodies in white kimono.
|Emperor Taishō in full Western regalia.|
|Emperor Hirohito photographed|
in 1988. Source: Asahi Shimbun
When Hirohito made his famous radio broadcast announcing Japan's surrender, it was the very first time that the common people ever had the chance to hear their Emperor speak. The speech was given in such formal court language that only highly educated people could understand it. Although the American Occupation formally disbanded the Empire of Japan, as well as the Imperial Family (called simply Kazoku, "family") in 1944, Imperial families still retain their titles, socially.
Debate over the extent of Hirohito's culpability as a war criminal was taboo while he was alive, but it began to rage soon after his death. There is documented evidence to show that the Emperor Hirohito did attend military meetings, but there is also some evidence to show that the Emperor was not always privy to every detail. It may have been to the American Occupation Forces' benefit after the war to perpetrate the view the Emperor and the Japanese people had been lied to by the military leaders to make them seem more "evil."
Yasukuni Shrine is regarded as the most important Shintō shrine in the country. (Remember that Shintō is the official state religion.) The shrine was established by Emperor Meiji and dedicated to all those who have lost their lives in the service of the Empire of Japan. It shouldn't have been a surprise, therefore, that certain people who served during World War II had been enshrined at Yasukuni. However, when Emperor Hirohito discovered that those who had been termed "war criminals" were enshrined there, he boycotted the shrine in 1978, even though he was the head of the Shintō religion. To this day, his son, the current Emperor and head of the Shintō religion, also refuses to attend the shrine. This was regarded as a powerful statement by the Emperor. (The prime ministers generally worship at the Shrine, with the notable exception of eight Christian prime ministers in a country where the population is only about 1% Christian.)
|The Emperor reads a proclamation from the |
Chrysanthemum Throne. His duties are ceremonial
and he admits that he does what he is told to do!
I learned that I had been born in the year Shōwa 27. The year 1926 was known both as Taishō 15 and Shōwa 1. (Taishō means "great justice.") Shōwa 27 was our 1952. The Shōwa years went up to Shōwa 63, 1988. Since Emperor Shōwa died in early January, the year Shōwa 64 is not used, and 1989 is known as Heisei 1. Emperor Shōwa died of cancer, and I have always wondered whether the announcement of his death was delayed a few days in order to allow the Japanese people to celebrate the New Year holidays, the most important holiday season in Japan.
|Emperor Akihito receives newly-appointed US Embassador |
to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, on November 19, 2013.
The Emperor likes to shake hands with Western dignitaries, so it must have come as a shock when President Obama bowed to him. From the pictures, though, I can see he took the faux pas in stride.
The Emperor has a true concern for his people. He and his wife visited victims of the Unzen volcano in 1991 as well as the victims of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2004 Niigata earthquake. In April 2011, the Emperor and Emperess visited evacuation centers to talk to survivors of the mega-earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima. They have made several visits to the area since that time. The Imperial palace is not formally subject to the rolling power blackouts imposed on Tokyo, but to show solidarity with the disaster victims, they have reduced electricity consumption at the palace and they eat simple meals by candlelight. They have also opened up Imperial properties outside of Tokyo for the use of disaster evacuees. The Emperor now conducts business in the Imperial Residence, rather than the Palace, to save electricity. (The air conditioning in the huge palace can then be turned off.) When events in the palace cannot be done anywhere else, they are scheduled in the early morning to avoid air conditioning use at peak times. Power use is checked every 30 minutes by the Imperial Household Agency to maintain the Emperor's strict requirements for reducing energy.
Last month, Emperor Akihito surprised the Japanese people when palace officials announced plans for his funeral. He will be cremated, not buried, and his funeral will be a relatively modest one, compared with all the pomp of his father's funeral. His wife's remains will be put in the same smaller mausoleum at the time of her death. The fact that they have planned ahead was well-received in a nation where, very soon, two out of every three people will be elderly. The Emperor's plans break a 400-year-old burial custom for emperors in Japan. (Most common people are cremated, but that will be the subject of another blog entry.)
|The Emperor likes to wave at people from the window|
of his car.