My home country Japan has been under the reign of a single Dynasty for over 2500 years – well, give or take a few hundred years to be honest. Our history starts with a mythology involving how the nation was formed. Supposedly God dipped his rod into the ocean to stir, then he pulled it out. When a few chunks of mud dribbled from the end of his rod and formed islands in that part of the Pacific, they turned into Japan. That’s the way the mythology begins.
Even after all these years, a fascinating fact is that the monarchy has been still continuous since they first took power a long time ago. By the time the 6th Century came around, there was a centralized government of Japan which was built by imitating that of China (or then China – the name of the nation in charge has changed countless times in the Continent). The form of the administration has gone through from a monarchy to aristocracy to feudalism (Shogun was the Boss) to now a parliamentary democracy. Yet the Imperial Family has always kept a relationship and involvement with any ruling party of the time.
In August 2016 our current Emperor Akihito, who is the 125th Emperor in line, appeared on TV to address the nation that it was getting increasingly difficult for him to keep up with the duty as an emperor as he aged. He was 82 years old. According to the current Imperial Household Law the throne is a lifetime tenure and the change can only happen following the passing of the current emperor. The Emperor expressed his hopes the nation would understand his feelings and agree to alter the law so that he would be able to abdicate. And the nation did listen to him. A set of special legislations was passed in the Parliament and enacted into the Law in 2017. That was the beginning of the path for Japan to see the Imperial Abdication for the first time in 202 years of its history.
Emperor Akihito is the first to serve as an emperor under the Japanese constitutional system called Symbolic Monarchy. He himself looks back the days of his reign and says that he has endlessly deliberated the meaning of a “symbol of Japan.” He is, in a sense, not a person. He and other Imperial Family members do not have the registers that the rest of the citizens do. They don’t commit to any political activities including voting. His being there is for the nation. He says he has done what he has come to think the role of a symbol of Japan should be. He adds that his son, the Crown Prince, will succeed the throne to perform what he interprets the role of the symbol ought to be.
The date of Emperor Akihito’s abdication was set to be at 5 pm on April 30, 2019. Yes, it will be the last day of this month. The Crown Prince, Naruhito, will be enthroned as the 126th Emperor on the following day, May 1st. The change of the Era will take place at the same time from Heizei to Reiwa. It is expected that both Emperors will address the nation and world at the abdication and enthronement, respectively. Japan is now in its longest national holiday season of the year – we call it a “Golden Week”, as there happen to be a few national holidays occurring successively from the last week of April through the first week of May. They’ve added 2 more holidays this year for the abdication and the enthronement. Cherry blossoms are gone, but there is no shortage of flowers and young green leaves in the air of Tokyo. I wish them the best, and dream about apple blossoms and bud break on the grapes to follow here on the shore of Lake Ontario.