It is said that Japan is the last nation in the world with a royal head of state that has the title of Emperor. Theirs is also the claim of having one of the longest unbroken chains of succession to rule, with a direct male lineage that stretches for more than 2.5 millennia. The current Japanese Emperor reigning over the country’s Heisei era is Akihito, 125th in the traditional reckoning. At age 85, he has long expressed his wish to retire from the Chrysanthemum Throne, and the government obliged with a bill allowing his abdication at the end of April 2019. That settled, Akihito was able to deliver his last Imperial New Year’s address to Japan before a record-number crowd.
TIME has it that early on the morning of Wednesday, New Year’s Day 2019 Emperor Akihito appeared on the balcony of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to make his customary address and well-wishes for the occasion. It was much like every other greeting he had done on the first day of the year, save for the fact that it will be his last before abdication. Thus, the crowd allowed into the palace to hear Akihito’s address went beyond 140,000, which is more than the 126,700 from New Year’s Day 2017.
Greeted with the unceasing cheers of “Banzai” (literally “10 thousand years”, figuratively “long life”) the Emperor – accompanied by Empress Michiko, his heir Crown Prince Naruhito and the rest of their children – went about his customary New Year’s Greeting. “Happy New Year. I am truly delighted to celebrate the New Year with you all under (this) clear sky,” Akihito read from his prepared notes. “I hope this year will be a good year for as many people as possible. At the beginning of the year, I wish for the peace and happiness of the people of our country and the world.”
As the Imperial Palace courtyard facing the greeting balcony could only hold a finite number of people, the crowd was let inside in batches, with Emperor Akihito having to repeat this greeting to five different crowds in succession, followed by him and his family waving to the cheering spectators. The whole event lasted several hours.
The one-off bill that would facilitate the abdication of Akihito from the Chrysanthemum Throne in favor of his son and heir stipulates that the abdication proper take place on April 30, 2019. This ends the Heisei period and the beginning of a new era when Naruhito is enthroned as the 126th Emperor after his father. Akihito is the first Emperor to abdicate in 200 years of recent Japanese history. As Naruhito has no sons, his younger brother Fumihito (who has Prince Hisahito as male issue) will serve as heir presumptive.
Image courtesy of Hello Magazine