Japan’s Emperor Akihito marks emotional final birthday on throne
- In rare emotional address ahead of his abdication next year, Japanese emperor said he took ‘deep comfort’ that his long reign had been one of peace
- The emperor is set to abdicate on April 30 next year, and his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the following day
Japan’s Emperor Akihito, marking his 85th birthday – his last before his upcoming abdication – said he feels relieved that his reign is coming to an end without having seen his country at war and that it was important to keep telling younger people about his nation’s wartime history.
“It gives my deep comfort that the Heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan,” Akihito, his voice trembling with emotion, said at a news conference at the palace that was recorded this past week and released Sunday.
“It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in the second world war and that the peace and prosperity of post-war Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people, and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war.”
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Akihito’s 30-year reign of the Heisei is the only era without war in Japan’s modern history.
Praying for peace and making amends for a war fought in the name of his father, Hirohito, has become a career mission for Akihito, who succeeded the throne in 1989.
Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30, to be succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, on May 1. Sunday’s birthday celebration was Akihito’s last in his reign.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers who gathered at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to celebrate the occasion cheered and waved small rising-sun flags as Akihito and his family appeared on the balcony to greet and thank them.
As emperor, Akihito has made unprecedented visits to the Philippines and other Pacific islands conquered by Japan early in the second world and devastated in fierce fighting as the US-led allies took them back.
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Though Akihito has avoided a direct apology, he has subtly stepped up his expressions of regret in recent years in carefully scripted statements on the war.
Akihito said he won’t forget those trips with his wife, Empress Michiko, and thanked those counties for welcoming them despite their bitter memories of the war.
“I am grateful to each of those countries for welcoming us with warm hospitality,” he said.
Akihito, in his birthday message, fondly recalled receiving many dignitaries visiting Japan after its return to international society with the signing of the 1952 San Francisco peace treaty.
Akihito is the first emperor enthroned under Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution as the symbol with no political power, unlike his father, who was revered as a god until the end of the war.
As crown prince and emperor, Akihito has tried to bring the secluded palace close to the people, and thanked everyone including his wife Michiko, a commoner, for understanding his views and supporting his work.
“As I come to the end of my journey as emperor, I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the many people who accepted and continued to support me as the symbol of the state,” he said, and reiterated his respect and adherence to the war-renouncing charter and his symbolic role.
“I intend to carry out my duties in that capacity and shall continue to contemplate this question as I perform my day-to-day duties until the day of my abdication,” he said.