Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito vows to pursue peace in first public address

His is now nation’s 126th emperor, with his succession marking a new era in Japan - Reiwa era

Photo: EPA Japan`s new Emperor Naruhito (R) and Crown Prince Akishino (L) attend the `Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi`, or Ceremony for Inheriting the Imperial Regalia and Seals, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan's Emperor Naruhito inherited the sacred sword and jewel that signaled his succession and pledged in his first public address Wednesday to follow his father’s example by devoting himself to peace and sharing the people’s joys and sorrows. Naruhito, the first modern emperor to have studied abroad and the first born after Japan’s defeat in World War II, formally succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne at midnight after his father Akihito abdicated a day earlier.

“When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity,” Naruhito said in his address.

While noting his father’s devotion to praying for peace, Naruhito said he’ll “reflect deeply” on the path trodden by Akihito and past emperors. He promised to abide by the constitution that stripped emperors of political power, and to fulfill his responsibility as a national symbol while “always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them.”

“I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world,” he said.

Naruhito, 59, is the nation’s 126th emperor, the latest in an unbroken line that stretches back 14 centuries. His position under Japan’s Constitution is a symbol without political power. Wartime militarist governments worshipped the emperor as a living god until Naruhito’s grandfather renounced that status after Japan’s 1945 war defeat. Thus, Naruhito is considered a new breed of royal, his outlook forged by the tradition-defying choices of his parents.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito devoted his three-decade career to making amends for a war fought in his father’s name while bringing the aloof monarchy closer to the people. Naruhito’s mother, Michiko, was born a commoner and was Catholic educated. Together, they reached out to the people, especially those who faced disability, discrimination and natural disasters.

Japan festively celebrated an imperial succession prompted by retirement rather than death. Many people stood outside the palace Tuesday to reminisce about Akihito’s era; others joined midnight events when the transition occurred, and more came to celebrate the beginning of Naruhito’s reign.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Naruhito on his ascension, pledging to create a “bright future” during the new era that is peaceful and full of hope.

Naruhito also received congratulations from abroad. President Donald Trump’s message said America and Japan will renew the bonds of friendship in the new era. Xi was quoted by state media as saying China and Japan should work together to promote peace and development and bilateral ties.

Akihito during his three-decade reign embraced an identity as peacemaker and often made reconciliatory missions and carefully scripted expressions of regret on the war. His immersion in that role leaves Naruhito largely free of the burden of the wartime legacy, allowing him to carve his own path. Palace watchers say he might focus on global issues, including disaster prevention, water conservation and climate change, which could appeal to younger Japanese, while also emulating his father’s focus on peace.

That’s what many Japanese hope Naruhito will pursue.

“I hope the new emperor will be like the Heisei Emperor (Akihito), who cherishes peace,” said Takayori Kobayakawa, a 71-year-old retiree who came from Shizuoka, central Japan. “I have high hopes for him.”

Naruhito also faces uncertainties in the imperial household. Crown Prince Fumihito, 53, and Fumihito’s 12-year-old son, Prince Hisahito, can currently succeed him. The Imperial House Law confines the succession to male heirs, leaving Naruhito’s daughter out of the running.

Naruhito’s wife Empress Masako is a Harvard-educated former diplomat who may prove an adept partner in his overseas travels and activities. But much will depend on her health, since she has been recovering from what the palace describes as stress-induced depression for about 15 years.

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