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Emperor Akihito’s happy retreat

May 02,2019
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YOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“It is fortunate that he is abdicating while he is still alive.” This was the most appropriate expression about the atmosphere in Japan as Emperor Akihito was about to abdicate. For weeks before the Heisei era began on January 9, 1989, the focus was on when his father Hirohito would die. Information about his health, such as his temperature and heartbeat, were reported every day, but it was not easy to mention the death of the Japanese emperor. The prime minister and foreign minister couldn’t even travel abroad.

In a television commercial for a well-known automobile, the model’s line “Are you doing well?” was muted after the king died, because the expression was not appropriate during the mourning period. It was ridiculous, but Japanese people were cautious during this time. Compared to the past, the transition to the Reiwa era has been more light and pleasant. While the Japanese monarch is only a symbolic role, people seem to be celebrating the event as if a new era is really opening. Convenience stores are already selling a set of clear files and Japanese flags labeled Reiwa. Countdown events took place across the country on the eve of May 1.

As abdication approached, people flocked to wherever Akihito and his wife visited. They applauded and acknowledged their hard work. Former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called the abdication a “happy retirement.”

Emperor Akihito won support from the people because he showed interest in the vulnerable and sent messages of peace and opposed war with his words and actions. At his birthday press conference in December 2018, when he made his last official remarks during his reign, Akihito said it was important to correctly convey history to people born after the World War II. Many interpreted his remark as a criticism for the historical revisionism of the Abe government.

Shortly before the conference, Akihito visited Okinawa, where the Japanese government was confronting locals over the construction of a U.S. military base. It was his 11th visit. When he visited Okinawa as the crown prince, Molotov cocktails were thrown in his direction. “I would accept whatever happened to me,” he said. He visited Saipan for the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and Palau for the 70th anniversary. He said he could not forget to mourn the war victims.

Akihito is 85 years old. Despite his old age, he is reportedly quite healthy. After his abdication, he will be just a member of the royal family.

JoongAng Ilbo, , April 30, Page 33