Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Emperor’s role and the people’s expectations
NUMATA Sadaaki / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

September 11, 2018
On April the 30 and May the 1 next year, the abdication by Emperor Akihito and the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito will take place. The pomp and pageantry of the events will bring home to the Japanese people the end of the Heisei era. What may not be clear in their mind is what kind of a role future emperors may play in the eras to follow.
In his message to the nation on August 8th 2016, the Emperor said, “I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese Imperial Family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people”. In the 30-year Heisei era, the role of the Emperor as the “Symbol” of the State under the Constitution has evolved largely as a result of the Emperor’s own unceasing soul-searching.
The Emperor and the Empress, on their part, have responded to the expectations of the people through selfless devotion to the wellbeing and happiness of the people. They have taken every opportunity to console and encourage the weak such as the elderly, the handicapped and the victims of disasters. For example, people felt their warmth, sincerity and compassion when they saw them sitting with their legs folded on the wooden floor of a shelter to offer words of consolation to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake victims in March 2011. The Emperor and the Empress have thus brought the Imperial Family much closer to the people.
In July 2009, I accompanied the Emperor and Empress on their two-week visit to Canada as their official spokesman. On the last leg of their trip in Victoria, capitol of British Columbia, some 3,000 people thronged the Parliament Buildings, waving small Rising Sun flags and smiling, to greet the Emperor and Empress. The imperial couple’s human face of warmth, sincerity and smiles had won the hearts of Canadians as well.
There are four important days in the year for the Emperor to renew his pledge to peace; June the 23rd (the end of the Battle of Okinawa), August the 6th (atomic bombing of Hiroshima), August the 9th (atomic bombing of Nagasaki) and August the 15th (the end of WWII). His sentiment was summed up when he said on August the 15th this year, “Looking back on the long period of post-war peace, reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated. Together with all of our people, I now pay my heartfelt tribute to all those who lost their lives in the war, both on the battlefields and elsewhere, and pray for world peace and for the continuing development of our country.”

As we look ahead to future imperial succession, we ask ourselves whether the role of the Emperor, developed over the 30 years of Heisei, can be sustained in a way that responds to the expectations of the people.
The stark reality is that there will be fewer and fewer “male offsprings in the male line belonging to the Imperial Lineage” who are eligible for imperial succession under the Imperial Household Law. Out of the 19 members of the Imperial Family including the Emperor and the Empress, 8 are under the age of 40, of which 7 are unmarried princesses and only one, Prince Hisahito, son of Prince Akishino (brother of the Crown Prince), is in the line of succession after his father.

The shortage of the imperial family members who can perform official functions may be dealt with to some extent by letting the women members perform official functions after marriage, but that does not help ensure stable succession of the throne. One idea floated to solve the problem of stable succession is to revive the former branches of the Imperial Family who renounced membership in the Imperial Family in 1947. It seems doubtful that the people will support the sudden elevation of those who have been among them for more than 70 years.
Traditionalists in favor of patrilineal succession resist the idea of disrupting “the unbroken imperial line from time immemorial”. However, adhering to this view could result in reduced exposure of the Imperial Family to the people, which in turn could lead to possible erosion of the role of the Emperor and the Empress and the Imperial Family so assiduously cultivated by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
In forging a national consensus on imperial succession, we should have a clear idea of our own expectations regarding the Emperor’s role. If we wish the Emperor to be close to the hearts of the people, we should keep ourselves open to the option of matrilineal succession or women emperors, as was suggested by the Eminent Persons Group Report in 2005.
Sadaaki Numata is former ambassador to Canada and Pakistan.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭 / 日本英語交流連盟会長

2018年 9月 11日











一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Emperor’s role and the people’s expectations