Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Anniversary of the Emperor of Japan

This year marks the Silver Jubilee (as it would be called in the west anyway) of HM the Emperor of Japan who had his formal enthronement ceremony twenty-four years ago today. It was truly an historic event, coming after the 63-year reign of his father, the Showa Emperor, which was the longest reign in Japanese imperial history. Although born in the time of the Empire of Japan, the current Emperor was still only about 12-years old when Japan surrendered in 1945. He did most of his ‘growing up’ during the days of the American occupation and the post-war State of Japan. As such, things were quite different for him compared to past Japanese emperors and on his shoulders rested an immense responsibility. He would be the first monarch to reign after the war, after the empire and under the new constitution and the new place Japan found itself in on the world stage. Fortunately, he had the advantage of a long-reigning father who presided over the most dramatic changes and so the Emperor was able to be brought up in this new atmosphere and fully prepared for his position and what would be required of him by the time he came to the throne in 1989. Since then, he has proven himself to be one of the great monarchial leaders of the world and an example to his own people and to others worthy of emulation.

The past 25 years of the current imperial era have seen high points and low points for Japan but through it all, the Emperor has been exactly the monarch that the situation, and the times, needed him to be. He came to the throne at a time when Japan was undergoing astounding economic success. The country had risen from the ashes of war to become the second largest economy on earth and, for a time, it even looked as though Japan might surpass the economic powerhouse of the United States as the value of the currency rose and investment poured in. However, over-confidence, reckless spending and bad decisions by banks, businesses and the government soon caused the bubble to burst and Japan experienced the infamous “Lost Decade”, which was actually more than a decade, of economic stagnation. Over the many years of difficulties, the Emperor was a symbol of reassurance to the public as well as an example of frugality and simplicity. The Japanese monarchs have long been known for living elegantly but simply and the current Emperor has been no exception. He always set an example of being majestic and dignified without being ostentatious. The public, after the economic bubble burst, took this to heart and began to follow his example; extravagance was no longer fashionable.

On the political front, the long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party (the most conservative mainstream party) came to an end in 1993 but the coalition that replaced it soon collapsed and the LDP made its way back into politics in a bizarre coalition of its own that gave Japan its first socialist prime minister in half a century. Although most remembered today for his high profile apology to the other nations of Asia for the Japanese role in World War II, the election of a socialist prime minister was just the first in a string of disasters Japan had to deal with. His massive amounts of new regulations and entitlements did the economy no good, in 1995 a major earthquake struck Kobe and two months later a cult group carried out a poison gas attack on a Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and injured many, many more. The Emperor responded to such events with a dutiful adherence to his constitutional role and by acting in a kind and compassionate way to give comfort to his people in times of natural disasters. Both of these duties the Emperor would be called on to perform throughout his 25-years on the throne. In terms of politics, the Emperor has remained above the turmoil, never drifting to one side or the other but always on the side of Japan as a whole.

Although the Emperor is not a political figure in that he is not involved in politics or policy making, he is a leader and is undoubtedly the greatest leader Japan has and not simply by virtue of being the Emperor. He has shown more wisdom, moderation and foresight than virtually any political or social leader in Japan in his lifetime. In terms of domestic politics, the Emperor has always been scrupulous about following the rules and sticking to the constitution. This has made him an invaluable source of stability in very politically unstable times. Even when Japan was undergoing rapid turnovers of governments, one after another, there was no collapse in confidence domestically or in foreign countries. Anywhere else where governments came and went so quickly this would cause a panic but not in Japan and that is because, simply by being there, the Emperor has a calming effect. The politicians in Tokyo may bicker and feud but everyone feels that it will all be okay because the Emperor is still in his palace and all is right with the world. The Emperor, going about his duties, closing one Diet session and opening another, is a sign of survival. The Emperor is still there, just as he always has been, so Japan is still here, the country will not cease to exist because politicians cannot come to an agreement.

On the world stage, the Emperor has been, perhaps even more important over these last 25 years. His reign has seen the start of Japan reemerging as a force in world affairs and as a major military power (even if it is not, legally, a formal military). Japan deployed forces (in a non-combatant capacity) abroad for the first time since World War II, showing an increasing willingness to put the past behind them and become more self-sufficient in defense matters. Of course, this has not always been welcomed by those in other countries and bigoted elements at home and abroad (though they despise each other) have both sought to cling to memories of the war and keep Japan shackled to the past, a focus of hostile and suspicious feelings. However, so far, they have been unsuccessful thanks in no small part to the actions of the Emperor himself. In contrast to the narrow-minded chauvinism of the radicals, the Emperor has traveled the world, solidifying relations with allies, renewing old friendships and forming new and better relations with foreign countries as the embodiment of a confident, peace-loving, mature Japan. He has struck just the right note on every occasion, expressing regret for past events but honoring past heroism and sacrifice, acknowledging history but not being enslaved by it. Rather than carry on old grudges, the Emperor has set his focus on strengthening the Japan of today and tomorrow by goodwill and strong friendships in the international community. And, where Japan has been met by bigotry, the Emperor has taken the moral high ground, meeting such animosity with polite kindness, an open mind and an outstretched hand. Such warmth and dignity on his part has served more than once to highlight the immaturity of those powers which cling to bitterness.

While serving as an inspiring example at home and putting the best image of Japan forward around the world, the Emperor has also been a great comfort to his people in times of crisis. At no time was this more evident than in the worst disaster Japan has suffered since the end of the war; the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The Emperor took the almost unprecedented step of addressing the entire nation personally in a televised message, the nearest thing to which that was ever done before being the address by radio to the people by HM the Showa Emperor in 1945. The Emperor and Empress also made numerous visits to the victims of the disaster, greeting them personally, talking to them, listening to them and comforting them. No one who experienced such a visit or even witnessed one could not have failed to be moved by the genuine sympathy and compassion the Emperor showed to every one of his unfortunate subjects at such a sad and difficult time. Once again, he set the perfect example and the people of Japan came together in a most heart-warming way to help each other, care for each other and to join in resilient determination to rebuild, recover and improve the afflicted area. With the moral leadership that the Emperor provided, everyone could see that the old values many had thought had disappeared in Japan, were still alive and could come back into focus in times of crisis for the country.

Throughout his reign, the Emperor has seen a number of natural disasters afflict his country. There has also been an increase in tension with Japan’s closest neighbors with harsh words and military scares from China, Korea and Russia. This, naturally, has led to Japan placing more emphasis on national defense and this, in turn, has provoked protests from Korea, China and Russia with China and Russia in particular clinging to the memory of World War II and wishing to, in their words, “preserve the post-World War II world order” which of course would include a powerless Japan. However, so far, their efforts to frighten other countries and divide Japan and her closest allies have proven mostly fruitless, thanks in no small part to the Emperor himself. He has always made it clear that he values nothing higher than peace, remembering the horrors and ruination of the war very well himself, and he has always been ready to reach out in friendship to any country. His actions have shown the rest of the world that any tensions, such as between China and Japan, are not being instigated by Japan but by China. The Emperor has also been of immense benefit in strengthening existing friendships with American and European powers as well as forging new and better relations with other Asian countries such as India.

The Emperor cannot keep the peace on his own, but he has set the right example, the right moral tone and been the best sort of ambassador Japan could ever have. He has spread trust and goodwill wherever he has gone and won over people in every country he has visited with his kind smile and genuine warmth. The last 25-years have, in many ways, been difficult for Japan. The country has troublesome neighbors, more national debt than any country in the world, faces a looming demographic crisis and has had to deal with many natural disasters. However, the people have also been coming together like never before, becoming more realistic and more involved in the world community and have shown the talent and creativity to overcome great problems. And through it all they have had the Emperor’s prayers to support them, the Emperor to set a matchless example for them, an Emperor to be their best public face to the world, an Emperor who has comforted them in times of crisis, congratulated them on great achievements and reminded all Japanese people everywhere of their shared history and illustrious national story. In brief, the Emperor has been, in every way, the model monarch and a matchless moral leader for his country and all his people. Congratulations on 25-years on the throne and may the Emperor reign on, until the pebbles grow to might stones. 天皇陛下万歳! 万歳! 万歳!

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