Why is Japan still a monarchy

Emperor Naruhito: Japan's monarchy through the ages

Japan's Emperor Akihito abdicates in favor of his son Naruhito. The monarch dynasty has changed a lot over the centuries

No, the Tenno is not dead. He just left. As light as a dry leaf in the autumn wind, it would also symbolically correspond to Japanese mythology. Japan's Emperor Akihito, 85, a petite old man, has retired completely behind the palace walls to devote himself only to the study of freshwater fish and the nature from which everything comes. He is succeeded by his eldest son Naruhito, 59, on the throne. Long live the Tenno.

Japanese monarchy background: Amaterasu

It is a quiet, unspectacular handover in the world's oldest monarch dynasty. The first Tenno (Japanese emperor) was Jimmu, who according to the religious tradition of Shintoism was of divine origin. He was born in 660 BC. Ruler and, according to legend, was a great-grandson of Ningi, a grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, whom Ningi had sent down from heaven to earth to plant rice and to rule there.

All Japanese rulers trace their origin - and authority - back to Amaterasu. She is the personified sun and goddess of light and is considered to be the ancestor of the sex from which Akihito also descended. He was the 125th Tenno in the long line of his ancestors, and Emperor Naruhito is crowned 126th.

Emperor as "symbol of the state"

The Japanese emperors hardly have any secular power. According to the 1946 constitution, they are merely "symbols of the state and the unity of the people". The Tenno is not even the head of state de jure. Although he appoints the prime ministers and presidents of the Supreme Court, he convenes parliament, promulgates new laws and accepts letters of accreditation from foreign ambassadors, he has no decision-making authority.

Nevertheless, the Tenno has a high moral and cultural importance as a "heavenly ruler", he is also the highest Shinto priest. But he is no longer a divine being, as the Japanese worshiped their rulers for many centuries.

Effects of World War II

It was different with Akihito's father Hirohito (1901-1989). He was head of state until his death and commander in chief of the Japanese armed forces during World War II. After the end of the war, the victorious USA recognized his godlike status and severely restricted his power, but left him on the throne and unmolested by the prosecution of Japanese war crimes. Although Hirohito had "assumed responsibility for every military and political decision, as well as for all actions of my subjects during the course of the war".

The popular veneration for Tenno Hirohito was unbroken. When the post-war government confiscated his property and he could no longer pay his gardeners, over 20,000 men and women reported to him to work free of charge. In 1989 Hirohito died - and the security authorities feared a wave of suicides across the country. However, only three Japanese died voluntarily to accompany their Tenno into the afterlife and to serve him.

Akihito caused displeasure

With his eldest son Akihito as successor, the office of Tenno was secularized, although he too was behind the palace walls of Kokyo remained largely invisible to the public in central Tokyo. Akihito was raised and taught in English from 1946 to 1951 by the American educator Elizabeth Gray Vining. She had a great influence on him and taught him to free himself inside. Akihito has seldom renounced these freedoms since then, constantly colliding with the conservative officials of the Imperial Court Office.

Emperor Akihito married out of love - and civilly

He refused to marry a lady from the Japanese aristocracy, as the protocol provides. Instead, he married Michiko Shoda, who was raised Catholic and the daughter of a wealthy grain dealer, whom he had met on the tennis court. Contrary to the wishes of the court, he had Crown Prince Naruhito study at Oxford. He wrote his speeches himself and left aside the texts prepared for him.

At a meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo, he even "regretted" the actions taken by the Japanese in China during the war - which his father had never done publicly and which the court did not approve of at all. Der Spiegel wrote: "The current emperor is said to have been deeply impressed by the International Tribunal in Tokyo, which sentenced General Tojo and six other Japanese to death by hanging. They were hanged on his 15th birthday. "

Japanese traditionalists reacted irritably to Akihito's open-minded manner and his un-Japanese upbringing. According to the historian Yuji Aida of the University of Kyoto, his American teacher poisoned the heart and mind of the young Prince Akihito with "foreign ideas and European ideas of monarchy" at an early age. Akihito took the criticism calmly. When asked what kind of sovereign he would like to be, he replied, "Like a King of Denmark."

Akihito's farewell speech: "Pray with all your heart"

After 30 years as a Tenno, he has now voluntarily abdicated due to various illnesses, for which the government had to pass a new law. On his last day at the ceremony in the palace he wore a black cut and said at the end of his short speech: "I pray with all my heart for the peace and happiness of the people in Japan and around the world." Then he left the hall with a "long, thoughtful look at those present (FAZ)."

He goes as a celebrated, adored by the people, loved like no other member of the imperial family before him. He will devote himself to the research of freshwater fish, whereby he is already considered an internationally recognized expert. He will play the cello with his wife while she sits at the grand piano. Even when his son Naruhito is enthroned, he is no longer there.

Emperor Naruhito is well prepared

Naruhito has prepared for his time as Tenno just as his father would have done. He knows very well that once he sits on the chrysanthemum throne, he has to combine modernity with an ancient tradition. This throne takes its name from the circular imperial seal, which has 16 yellow petals. It may only be used by members of the imperial family, but it also adorns the cover of the Japanese passport.

This is how enthronement works

On the day of the enthronement, Naruhito receives the Japanese insignia to the throne. They are the most valuable treasures of the imperial family that are neither accessible to science nor to the public. There are no real images, and they were never described by the imperial family themselves.
These are the sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi, the gemstone Yasakani no Magatama and the mirror Yata no Kagami. The three objects are said to embody the three highest virtues of Tenno. The sword stands for bravery, the gemstone for the will to act right, the mirror for wisdom. According to legend, the insignia of the throne are said to have been given to the first Tenno by the goddess of light Amaterasu. They are heirlooms of the ruling family and are said to date from the Bronze Age.

Change of throne in Japan A new imperial era begins

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Political observers assume that the new Tenno Naruhito will think and act as openly in most matters as his father, who shaped him accordingly. He studied humanities at Gakushuin University in Tokyo and Oxford (England) and graduated with a master's degree.

Naruhito also fought against traditions

Like his father, he married a commoner as crown prince against the opposition of the court office, as well as a real career woman: Masako Owada comes from a former samurai family, but her father was a civil judge and diplomat. She studied economics at Harvard (USA) and Oxford (England) and then worked as a diplomat at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The fact that, with her height of 1.61 meters, she also towers a few centimeters above her husband is another thorn in the side of the traditionalists. But Naruhito has made up his mind: Either that or none! Wedding 1993, 2001 after eight years of marriage and a miscarriage (1999) Princess Aiko was born. Again there were quarrels within the court. According to a law governing the imperial household, only male heirs are permitted to ascend the chrysanthemum throne. A public debate ensued to allow women to assume the office of emperor as well.

Empress Masako's difficult path

Presumably these discussions were the cause of the depression that Masako fell ill. The court office described this as "adjustment disorders", to which her husband reacted in an unusual way: Naruhito publicly protected his wife and said that she had "tried with great strength to adapt to the imperial family." But in his opinion that was completely exhausting. He also spoke of "efforts" that had been made to "negate Masako's career and personality."

The debate ended when Prince Hisahito was born in 2006, the son of Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Fumihito. Finally the imperial family had a male heir to the throne again. The child now takes second place in the line of succession, after Fumihito, Tenno's brother. Naruhito is not only a brilliant musician like his father (plays violin and viola), but also deeply rooted in nature. He campaigns for water protection, loves hiking and will - a sacred duty of the Tenno - grow rice in the palace garden according to ancient rites.