Japan’s Emperor Akihito. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
The popular Japanese Emperor Akihito, 84, is abdicating next year.
On August 15, he will for the last time as reigning emperor take part in an annual memorial ceremony honoring war dead in a role he has carved out as a symbol of peace, democracy, and reconciliation after the death of his father, Hirohito, or the Showa Emperor.
Makoto Watanabe, a former imperial grand chamberlain, or aide to the emperor for 13 years until 2007, has seen first hand how the Emperor reached out to the Japanese people and beyond.
“In my mind, more specifically the first thing he did was to console the soul of the war dead. Not only the Japanese but the Americans and local people, people all over the world,” Watanabe said in an interview with Reuters.
Although he cannot directly influence government policy, Akihito has created a broader consciousness of Japan’s wartime past, experts say. That is a sharp departure from the legacy of his father, once revered as a “living god” in whose name Japan fought World War II.
It was a change that had no precedence in Japan.
“He has no role model, not only about the question of the war but about the role of the emperor as a whole. And so I think what he has been doing is on the one hand, to try to find out what people expect of him,” Watanabe said. — Reuters