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In run-up to end of Heisei, pundits discuss whether an emperor is really needed

15 Comments

The May-June issue of Sapio features the final installment in a long-running series of dialogs about the "History of the Heisei Era" between Keio University professor Morihide Katayama and former diplomat Masaru Sato. Its title: "Do Japanese Need an Emperor?"

The question here is rhetorical and obviously not meant to be taken seriously as a debating point at this particular point in time. The government has already decided that Emperor Akihito's reign will end with his abdication in April 2019, with his successor, the crown prince, initiating the new era from May 1. The next era name (gengo in Japanese) is scheduled to be announced in February of next year.

In the immediate postwar period, the emperor system came close to being abolished completely. After China's Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Emperor Puyi eventually assumed the status of an ordinary citizen. But is such a thing even thinkable in Japan?

"There can be no mistaking that people's view of the Emperor has undergone change," Sato remarks. "I wonder if one reason for this is because they don't have a strong awareness of the emperor -- although that doesn't necessarily mean their sentiments have become diluted."

"In other words," Katayama adds, "the emperor's presence has permeated to the extent that while people may accept it in matter-of-fact terms, whether they're for or against the institution, there's no real passion. So being the case, perhaps people lack the energy to debate the subject."

Under the postwar Constitution the status of the Showa Emperor was reduced from "living god" to that of a symbolic figurehead. But with the current emperor even that has become diluted, in part by the liberal tutelage he underwent in his youth from American Quaker Elizabeth Vining and British-educated Keio University professor Shinzo Koizumi.

Sato then makes an interesting observation: "As the present emperor is his own person, there are no moves that might link any opposition to the imperial system and opposition to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In other words, nobody's saying that the present emperor system can be associated with the prewar formula of Japanese imperialism. The current phenomena can be said to express the image of the Heisei Era." 

This, Katayama remarks, may also reflects that more Japanese ascribe to liberal views as embodied in pacifism, postwar democracy and the Constitution. "For more people, the presence of the current emperor ties in with views in opposition to the policies of the Abe government."

Katayama and Sato then make comparisons on the theological background, with the god-king (of Japan) as based upon ancient creation myths as interpreted by early histories such as the 8th century works Kojiki ("Records of Ancient Matters") and Nihon Shoki ("The Chronicles of Japan"). Even before the Meiji Period and Japan's opening to the West, however, views of Confucian and Shinto scholars appear to have been influenced by the Holy Trinity and other Christian dogma, and these in turn were eventually adopted to ascribe "charisma" to rites and ceremonies performed by the emperor, particularly from the early Showa Era in the 1920s. That ended on January 1, 1946 with Hirohito's rescript known as the "Declaration of Humanity" -- or denial of divinity, if you prefer -- imposed on him by the victorious allies.

Sato believes that since certain segments of Japanese society, including the Ainu and Okinawan minorities and certain Buddhist groups, openly reject myths related to the emperor system, its status will be affected to some degree in the future.

"Now we're approaching the post-Heisei Era," Katayama sums up. "I can envisage one argument surfacing, which will be raising the question of whether Japan should become a republic. As for Heisei, it's likely to be remembered as an era that embodied the thoughts and actions of Emperor Akihito as its characteristic feature. With his abdication, then, I suppose the very nature of emperor itself will change."

© Japan Today

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15 Comments
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Personally, I think that the emperor system is good because the current emperor and his son are kind and sensitive people who reject the nightwing attitudes that are prevalent in the LDP. they can act as a buffer to some extent against right wing extremism.

However, considering the lifestyle the imperial family leads, it is more tantamount to being a slave or a prisoner, so I would support the abolishment of the imperial system on the grounds that the life they lead is hard and very constrained.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

What a silly rumination! What would we do with all of that tax money that isn't going to support the god-like (oops!) lifestyle anyway? Help the poor?! Ease the suffering of those who lost everything on 3/11? Ludicrous

2 ( +4 / -2 )

If the imperial system ends, Princess Masako will be free to finally lead the life she wishes.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Not a monarchist and when you see what being in the public eye, not allowed to falter or be human, does to royal individuals... I think it's archaic and outdated.

I think the people of this country and other monarchies should always come first.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Personally, I think that the emperor system is good because the current emperor and his son are kind and sensitive people who reject the nightwing attitudes that are prevalent in the LDP

Examples of when they denounced the gov't with any amount of force?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Monarchies are too rooted in the past. Last month we visited the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Beautiful historical buildings built in a way I love but when the layers of the onion are peeled back then the true reality becomes clear.

Those castles which I also love, and palaces were built and maintained at great cost to the ordinary guys who had to toll in sweat and labor and donate all their stones, even family graves for the building and give all of the rice they grew to the their Lord, leaving them hungry and starved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If the emperor is more than just a symbol, a person with the chance to speak his conscience, then keep him; if not there’s no need for such an expensive symbol. Right now he’s being used by powers that be. Let the people choose.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Examples of when they denounced the gov't with any amount of force?

They have come out verbally against Abe and the LDP. It was written about here.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Talking heads discussing it is one thing but is there any real discussion among the body of the populace, the Demos?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We definitely need a new Emperor in order to make Golden Week ten straight days of traffic misery!

I think the monarch system although archaic is pretty cool, but I would not want to live that life.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let the people choose.

Bad idea. The people here are too conditioned toward the ruling classes (including the Emperor) and will believe anything they are told about them. They lack critical thinking skills and ability to push on poor ruler-ship. For example, the Emperor could say he is a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess, and everyone would believe him...

It's an outdated system and no longer relevant, as are monarchies elsewhere. The Japanese government uses Akihito as a tool to great effect. Sure, he's a nice guy. But he's just an expensive figurehead.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The alternative should also be considered, where the Emperor would become more than just a figurehead and be given actual political oversight power over the government. Many people will instantly balk at the idea, but if you read the works of people like Robert Michels and his theory of the iron law of oligarchy, it's hard to deny that there are some serious flaws with the way our modern democratic systems work (or fail to work). It may not be such a bad idea to have a wealthy philosopher king watching over us, assuming he cannot be easily corrupted and is more concerned about the nations longterm well-being rather than popular opinion at the next election. It's something to think about.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Two thoughts come to my mind.

My first thought is : why is he refered to as emperor? Japan no longer has an empire.

My second thought is ; Heisei means "achieve peace". Has Japan achieved peace?

I would keep the Monarchy system in Japan. If it is'nt broken, why fix it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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