Emperor Akihito, marking the 20th anniversary of his coronation Thursday, says he is concerned young people are forgetting their history.
Akihito said Japan must not forget its past — and especially the turbulent years his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, was on the throne — if it is to learn from its mistakes.
"What worries me most is that the history of the past will gradually be forgotten," the 75-year-old monarch said at a brief news conference before Thursday's anniversary. He said it was regrettable Hirohito will be remembered by history for World War II and Japan's military advances into Asia prior to its defeat in 1945.
"The reign of my father began at a very difficult time," he said, noting that Japan invaded Manchuria six years after Hirohito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne. "There are many lessons that we can learn from the 60-some years of his reign."
"He viscerally knew the importance of peace," Akihito said.
Japan has often been criticized by its neighbors — who bore the brunt of Japanese colonialism — for whitewashing the country's role in World War II in its school textbooks. Although Akihito has visited China, he has yet to travel to South Korea, largely because of lingering animosities over the war.
Until Japan's surrender, Hirohito was officially considered a living god and loyalty to the throne was used to rally the nation behind the war, though historians generally agree that it was more often the generals, admirals and politicians who made the major decisions that set the country's disastrous course.
Over the past 20 years, Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, 75, have grown quietly into their roles as ceremonial symbols of the nation, a definition of the Japanese monarchs imposed by U.S. military leaders during the Japanese occupation.
Akihito's primary role is that of a figurehead. He presides over rituals at the palace shrines, gives out awards, meets foreign dignitaries and swears in new cabinets.
His public comments are famously circumspect, avoiding subjects that might have political implications, and off-the-cuff remarks are almost unheard of. The questions he answered at the pre-anniversary news conference were submitted to the palace well in advance, and he had written answers prepared.
Akihito was coronated nearly a year after Hirohito died on Jan 7, 1989 because the country was officially in mourning.
The emperor also said it is necessary to take note of the views of Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino in deciding on the future of the imperial family. ''I think it is important that the views of the crown prince and Prince Akishino, who supports him, are respected'' concerning the ideal role of the imperial family in the future, Akihito said, adding that the issue of the system of imperial succession should be left to deliberations in the Diet.
''They have both spent a great deal of time with me and supported me throughout these years, and I am sure they have been developing well-considered views on the ideal role of the emperor,'' he said.
Sharing that view, the empress told the press conference, ''Believing that they will continue to respect and complement one another and that their respective families too will certainly support them with all their heart, I entrust the future of the imperial family to the generations ahead.''
The two princes have been able to ''deepen their awareness of their respective responsibilities'' by spending time with their grandfather Emperor Hirohito and by closely observing their father Emperor Akihito as they grew up, the empress said.
The emperor also touched on some difficulties people in Japan are facing today, telling reporters, ''I am deeply concerned about people's welfare as Japan today is becoming a rapidly aging society at a time of severe economic conditions.''
''I would like to see a society where everyone supports one another,'' said the emperor, adding it is encouraging to see an increasing number of people caring about the elderly and those in need of nursing and who are making efforts to support them.
''I am delighted to see so many people celebrating this 20th year of the Heisei Era. I am grateful to them and take this opportunity to express my wishes for the peace and security of Japan and the health and happiness of the Japanese people,'' the emperor said.
On his health and duties, the emperor said, ''There has been a reduction in official duties over the past year and I think that this did indeed have the effect of lessening my burden. However, if my health continues as it is, I should like to continue with the current level of official commitments.''
''As for the empress,'' the emperor said, ''I am very happy to know that her knee is recovering,'' referring to a ligament injury in her left knee she sustained while playing tennis in February.
The empress said, ''Although I occasionally wish it to heal much faster, I think I must learn from the baseball player Hideki Matsui and wait patiently for it to improve,'' referring to the New York Yankees hitter, who overcame two knee operations on his way to becoming the latest World Series MVP.
The governmental ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the accession is scheduled to be held at the National Theatre of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon with the participation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and other dignitaries from various fields.
At around 9:30 a.m., people began signing their names in registers in commemoration of the anniversary at designated spaces in front of the Imperial Household Agency building in the Imperial Palace.
About 50,000 people are expected to attend another ceremony hosted by business organizations and a group of lawmakers in the Imperial Palace Plaza, with popular vocal and dance group Exile performing a new song written for the event.© Wire reports