The historic abdication of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on April 30 and the ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne of their eldest son, Naruhito, and his wife, Masako, the next day was followed closely in Japan, but mainly on television. The ceremonies were rather simple, but steeped in tradition and ritual that were witnessed in person by only a few.
The Hawai‘i Herald asked two longtime subscribers who were in Japan at the time to share their observations of the changeover.
Michael Malaghan, author of the novel, “Picture Bride,” which is serialized in the Herald, and his wife Tomoko happened to be in Tökyö during the changeover. It was significant to them in more ways than one.
We also asked Dr. Joyce Tsunoda, retired University of Hawai‘i vice president for Community Colleges, to share her observations and thoughts. Tsunoda and her husband Peter, both of whom were born in Japan, have resided part-time in Japan since her retirement from UH. Since retiring a second time from teaching English at Hakuoh University in Tochigi Prefecture, the Tsunodas spend much of their time traveling within Japan and spending time with one of their daughters and her Japanese family.
A “TRIPLE PASSAGE”
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
The weather was miserable, so we didn’t go to the Imperial Palace.
I viewed this imperial turnover in the context of a “triple passage” because my wife Tomoko and I got engaged in Japan just as Emperor Hirohito died, bringing the Showa Era to an end, and we were married just after Emperor Akihito’s Heisei Era began. Thus, it was easy to keep track of the exact year of Heisei.
The mood welcoming the Reiwa Era was so different from the last change. Hirohito was remembered for both World War II and Japan’s miracle economic revival. The Heisei Era ended with warmth and joy for Akihito, who brought the 2,000-year-old dynasty close to the people, giving it a common touch.
There is great happiness and exception today in Japan, as hope blossoms with Naruhito ascending the throne with the love of his life, Masako. Even as a gaijin (foreigner), I am caught up in the emotion of the moment . . . with lots of prompting from Tomoko, who has been glued to the television set, following every minute on NHK.
SYMBOL (SHOUCHOU) 象徴
Dr. Joyce Tsunoda
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
For two days, April 30 and May 1, my husband Peter and I stayed put in our little apartment house in Saitama as history was being made around us. But how does one “see history in the making?”
The media coverage of the “imperial transition” was extensive, especially in the build-up-to and post aspects. However, when it came to the actual rituals and protocols of the “retirement” of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko and the ascension of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, the coverage was quite brief, less than 15 minutes for each ceremony.
“Is that it?!” I thought. Had I had been more knowledgeable about the 1,000-plus-year-old history and the intricacies behind the traditions of the Japanese imperial system, I might have been more appreciative of what I had viewed in that short period. I felt very inadequate with myself.
The corresponding change in the name of the era, from Heisei to Reiwa, befuddled me at first. As I watched the unveiling of the name, the meaning of the kanji character rei that popped into my mind was a different kanji, meirei, which meant order, or command.
“Peace by command?” I asked myself.
I had totally missed the deep cultural background from the “Manyoushu — Ten Thousand Leaves,” from which the kanji, Rei in Reiwa was derived, as it was explained later. Again, I lacked adequate Japanese history and cultural background.
However, I did come away from watching the imperial transition with one hopeful impression: It was with the word “shouchou,” or symbol. The media used that word widely to credit the Heisei emperor and empress for their tireless efforts during their reign to advance the spirit of the Japanese constitution, which defines the emperor as the symbol of the state, deriving his position from the will of the people. The former Emperor Akihito, now Emperor Heisei, and Empress Michiko truly made that role come alive with their frequent visits to various parts of Japan to meet and interact with ordinary people, thus reducing the traditional social status distinctions and making the people of Japan feel close to them as living symbols. Their popularity was clearly demonstrated by the hundreds of people who lined the streets in the rain to get glimpses of the imperial couples.
I speak from my own experience of having been spoken to by the emperor and empress during a January 2016 memorial service in the Philippines for the Japanese who died in the Pacific War. As I stood in the light drizzle holding my father’s picture in his Hanshin Tigers baseball uniform, the emperor stopped and asked me, “Your father was a baseball player? He must have wanted to continue . . .”
The empress then came close to me and asked to hold my father’s photo. At that moment, I was comforted not by “symbols,” but by two people close to me in age who really cared. They were living symbols of the country of my father and of my birth.
As an American looking at Japan in this new era, my hope is that the people of Japan, including my own three grandchildren here, appreciate what they have and can rally together for a prosperous and peaceful present and future. And, from the bottom of my heart, I pray for the well-being of the new imperial couple.