LIFE OF EMPEROR AKIHITO

EMPEROR AKIHITO

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His Royal Majesty Emperor Akihito is regarded as the 125th direct lineal descendant of the Sun Goddess. Akihito ascended to the throne as the Emperor of Japan on November 12, 1990 after the death of Emperor Hirohito on January 7, 1989. Akihito was 55 when he took over. He ushered in the present Heisei Period. The Heisei period (1989- ) refers to the period covered by his rule. Heisei means “Achieving Peace."

Emperor Akihito has been described as the “immensely popular and completely powerless monarch of Japan." He was the first emperor to take the throne as a man rather than a god. At his enthronement he said, “I pledge I will always be at one with the people and uphold the constitution.”

Emperor Akihito was the first Japanese emperor to take the throne under the existing constitution, which defines the emperor as a symbol of the state. In November 2009, the Emperor and Empress celebrated their 20th year on the throne.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources on Emperor Akihito and the Royal Family : Wikipedia article on Emperor Akihito Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Empress Michiko Wikipedia ; The Royal Forums theroyalforums.com ; Modern Imperial family The Royal Forums on the Imperial Family of Japan theroyalforums.com ; Royalty/nu Links royalty.nu/Asia/Japan ; Imperial Family of Japan Blog imperialfamily.blog54 ;Unofficial Japan Royals Pages etoile.co.uk

Links in this Website: JAPANESE EMPEROR AND IMPERIAL FAMILY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE EMPEROR’s DUTIES AND LIFESTYLE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EMPEROR HIROHITO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EMPEROR AKIHITO AND EMPRESS MICHIKO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CURRENT JAPANESE ROYAL FAMILY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PRINCESS MASAKO Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources on the Emperor of Japan: Imperial Household Agency kunaicho.go.jp/eindexList of Emperors of Japan friesian.com ; Heraldica.org article on the Japanese Emperor heraldica.org ; History on Unofficial Japan Royals Pagesetoile.co.uk ; Stanford SPICE links to articles (compiled in 2004) spice.stanford.edu ; Japanese Creation Myth Washington State University ; ; Wikipedia article on the Emperor of Japan Wikipedia ; Opening Imperial Tombs msnbc.msn.com ; Book: Secret History of the Yamato Dynasty prnewswire.co.uk

Imperial Palace in Tokyo Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Imperial Household Agencysankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Map /gmap.jp Good Article by Robert Poole, National Geographic, January 2001. Imperial Palace in Kyoto Imperial Household Agency sankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Kyoto Travel Guide kyoto.travel Shugakuin Imperial Villa: Imperial Household Agency /sankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Photes japannet.de ; Wikipedia Wikipedia Katsura Imperial Villa: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Imperial Household Agency sankan.kunaicho.go.jp ; Tour of Katsura Rikyu katsura-rikyu.50webs.com Katsura Rikyu ranked No. 2 as the best garden in Japan by the U.S. publication the Journal of Japanese Gardening . The gardens at Adachi Museum in Yasugi Shimane have been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years. Ise Shrine Isejinguisejingu.or.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Wikitravel Wikitravel Map : Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO and Ise area JNTO ; Ise Jingu isejingu.or.jp Udo Jingu Shrine (near Nichinan 20 miles south of Aoshima In Miyazaki Prefecture) is located in a large sea-eroded cave on the Pacific Ocean at the tip of Cape Udo. It is dedicated to the mythological father of the mythological first emperor of Japan.

Emperor Akihito's Early Life

The eldest son and fifth child of Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako, Akihito was born on December 23, 1932 in Tokyo. As was case with crown princes before him, he was removed from his parents at the age of three and raised in an Imperial nursery and looked over his own doctors, nursemaids and teachers.

Akihito was born the year after Japan invaded Manchuria. He spent World War II as a privileged evacuee and was in the mountains of Nikko about 120 kilometers north of Tokyo. He was in the sixth grade of elementary school when World War II ended. Some of his most cherished moments as a child he has said was time spent with his father at the royal seaside retreat in Hayama, collecting sea life specimens from tidal pools.

Akihito studied at Tokyo Peer's School (Gakushuin elementary and secondary school ). One of his classmates was Yoko Ono. He graduated from Gakushuin University, where he studied political science and economics from 1952 to 1956.

Akihito was invested as the Crown Prince after his Coming-of-Age Ceremony in 1952. He was educated under the guidance of a former university president and given special classes on Western thinking and manners by a private tutor named Elizabeth Vining, a Quaker schoolteacher from Philadelphia. Akihito studied with her from 1946 to 1950 and was known by the nickname “Jimmy.”

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Akihito as boy with his father Emperor Hirohito

Akihito grew up in wartime Japan. He was eleven when the war ended. The period left a deep impression on him. His American Quaker education that followed the war included lessons on pacifism. Akihito has devoted his life to promoting peace. One official told National Geographic, “The war and the period after it weigh heavy on the Emperor's mind. He is mindful of those who suffered in the war, and he tries to console them by visiting places like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Okinawa."

In 2009, the Emperor revealed that he was diagnosed tuberculosis in 1953 when he was 19. He didn’t fully recover until 1957.

Emperor Akihito's Character

Akihito is a short, silver-haired dapper-looking man, who dresses in tailored double breasted suits. He has been described as “deliberate and steady” and is extremely polite and soft spoken, cultivating an “image of bland serenity.” The Times of London described his public demeanor as “one of intense solicitedness and earnest courtesy, without a trace of aristocratic hauteur.”

Akihito admits he does essentially what the government tells him to do. When he makes a statement, he often reads a prepared texts word for word without looking up. He speaks very carefully to avoid making any promises he can’t keep and goes out of his way to avoid statements that can be interpreted as having a political meaning. He has broken tradition by speaking about current events and troubles between himself and other members of the royal family.

When the Emperor meets with Westerners, he shakes hands rather than bows. Describing a meeting with Emperor Akihito,Robert Poole wrote in National Geographic, “His handshake is crisp and dry, his face open, his manner calming, his voice strong but not loud, with a hint of sandpaper about it. His dark eyes suggested good humor and lively intelligence. He was compactly built and ruggedly handsome, grayed and slightly stooped by the years. The overwhelming impression was the aura he projected---one of kind concern.”

Emperor Akihito's Interests

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Akihito is also a committed environmentalist. He speaks out on environmental issues, and is particularly interested in biodiversity. He has insisted that large parts of the Imperial palace ground be allowed to grow wild and invited entomologists to catalogue insect species that live there. A palace official told National Geographic, “In his mind a good environment is very important to human happiness. And he has also made a connection between environmental concerns and world peace. There must be peace that will enable people to work together to maintain and improve the environment."

The Emperor and Empress both have an interest in Western classical music. Sometimes the Emperor plays the piano accompanied by the Empress on cello. Akihito is also a pretty good tennis player. He plays a steady baseline game and once beat the first U.S. President George Bush 6-3, 6-3 on the palace courts.

Emperor Akihito often begins his day with a long walk in the heavily forested Fukiage Garden of the Imperial Palace. He often takes notes on the birds he sees and chats with gardeners. When he gets the chance he likes to attend technical conferences on fish and communicate with ichthyologist around the world.

Emperor Akihito and Fish

Like his father, Akihito prefers to study fish to performing royal duties. He has published 38 peer-reviewed scholarly papers on gobies in the Japanese Journal of Ichthyology and other academic journals since 1967. Gobies are small fish found in the moats of the Imperial Palace, and in lakes, coastal areas and reefs around the word. A paper he wrote in 1994 was entitled “The Importance of Morphological Characteristics in Gobie Phylogeny". The Empress is also a published author.

Emperor Akihito is regarded as the world’s top authority on gobies, a family of fish that includes more than 2,000 species. Much of his works has been devoted to distinguishing between the difficult-to-distinguish goby species through comparisons of minute details of the fish’s shoulder blades. Akihito spends a great deal of time looking at specimens under a microscope in his palace laboratory.

The Exyrias akihito is a species of goby named after the Emperor. A bottom feeder, it is 10 centimeters long a and has big bug eyes and orange speckles on its translucent body.

Peter Miller, an emeritus professor at the University of Bristol, told the Times of London, “He has made a very useful contribution, and I’m not saying that because he’s the Emperor. I have referenced his papers myself. I doubt there are more than a dozen scientists in the world who can match his expertise.”

Explaining the Emperor’s passion for biology, The Grand Chamberlain said “His duties inevitably involve political questions or government. In the natural sciences there is none of that...He has contacts with scientists who also pursue the truth and tell him he’s wrong, regardless of whether he’s the Emperor or not.”

Emperor Akihito's Duties

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The Emperor and Empress have a strong sense of duty. They have visited all 47 of Japan’s prefectures and many of its remote islands. Every year they attend the National Sports Festival, the National Arbor Day and the Cherished Sea festivals. When there is a national disaster they try to make a visit to console victims.

Much of the Emperor’s day is taken up with ceremonial appearances’some covered by the media, some not---writing letters, and editing speeches and texts. Blends old and new, he writes out traditional court poetry in calligraphy and uses a laptop computer to write and edits speeches.

Akihito stays informed on current domestic and international issues by reading the Times of London and Japanese newspapers and magazines. His advisors in the Imperial Household Agency include longtime politicians, career bureaucrats and scientists. A lot of time is taken up receiving visitors---government ministers, heads of state, royalty, new ambassadors---which he meets in a separate royal palace. In the evening there often official banquets and receptions.

Thirty-two times a year, Emperor Akihito puts on the robes of a Shinto priest and pays his respects to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami in a shrine dedicated to her.

On the anniversary of the end of World War II Emperor Akihito always says a prayer for those who died in the war. In 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Emperor and Empress visited Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Okinawa to pray for the people that died there. To mark the 60th anniversary of the ending of the war in 2005, he went to the island of Saipan to honor those who committed suicide in his name at Banzai Cliff.

Emperor Akihito has presided over hundreds of events. Some 50,000 people turned out in the cold and rain in November 1999 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Emperor Akihito's reign. To show that the Imperial family was with the times, the festivities included free rock concert featuring the former keyboard player of the rock group X Japan. It is not clear how many people would have shown up if there was no concert.

The most important imperial visits outside of Tokyo are related to tree planting, national athletic meets, parades and events for environmental protection and marine preservation. Emperor Akihito and the Empress often drive around in a car with the widows down so they can wave. Occasionally royal family members show up at sumo matches. If there is major disaster the Emperor and his wife try to make an appearance

Kumiko Makihara wrote in the New York Times: “The drizzly weather didn’t dampen the excitement at the annual spring imperial party last month as the royal family strolled along Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace grounds. Mao Asada, the Olympic figure skating silver medalist, was so overwhelmed when Emperor Akihito spoke to her that she managed only to repeatedly reply “yes,” and “thank you very much.” It was a typical reaction that shows the magnetic hold the emperor and empress have over the Japanese people.” [Source: Kumiko Makihara, New York Times, May 27, 2010]

Emperor Akihito's Lifestyle

Emperor Akihito and The Empress wake up at 6:30am. The begin the day watching television news and talking walks around the Imperial palace. The buildings they live in and use were mostly built in the late 20th century. The Emperor gets between them on foot or, when it rains, in 15-year-old Honda Integra that he drives himself. The Emperor goes through the trouble of renewing his license, using his seat belts and obeying all traffic laws even though the roads he drives on are largely free of cars and exempt from the laws of normal roads.

As of mid 2007, The Emperor had no Internet access or DVD machine. To unwind in the evening he and the Empress watch videos or television nature programs.

Emperor Akihito and The Empress have little free time. The Emperor’s Grand Chamberlain told the Times of London. “If they can take one whole day off a week, they are very lucky. They belong to the very frugal, serious, workaholic generation which almost views leisure or a wealthy lifestyle as immoral...There’s no retirement. They didn’t complain about it, and they don’t show it in public, but I’m sure it affects them physically and psychologically.”

The Emperor’s household gets by on an annual budgets of around ¥300 million. But every yen has to be accounted for. He has no cash or property of his own. There are few perks and no ground retreats. Their vacation home are two modest seaside villas and a farm that are owned by the state.

Emperor Akihito's Accomplishments

Emperor Akihito has been credited with completing the transformation of Japan’s royal family, in the words of the Times of London, from “a controversial relic of war and dictatorship to a symbol of peace and anti-militarism” and re-createding “his family as emblems of middle-class liberalism” and keeping “at bay conservative ultranationalists who would like to hijack the Emperor as the vehicle of a right-wing revival.”

Peace and anti-militarism have been major themes of Emperor Akihito career. He has made a point of visiting places associated with the horrors of war such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa and Saipan. On visits to China and South Korea he has expressed regret over the suffering inflicted by the Japanese during World War II’something which does not go down well with ultra-nationalists.

The impeccable behavior expected f the Emperor and the middle class lifestyle adopted by the Imperial family are viewed by some as a way of saying thank you for simply being able to exist and not being abolished as many outside of Japan would have liked after World War II. “Unless the overwhelming majority feel comfortable, this system could be in trouble” within Japan, an insider told the Times of London. “They have to prove the existence of the monarchy means something---it’s a conscious agenda for them. For that purpose their solution is to work hard.”

Visits in Japan by Emperor Akihito

The Emperor and Empress has done official tours of all 47 of Japan’s prefectures---a feat that took 16 years to accomplish. On his visits he usually stayed two nights and attended an event such a tree planting ceremony or an athletic meet. He made many visits to old folks homes.

When he visits some place in Japan the sidewalk and roads are swept clean, large flags are displayed, gardens are planted with fresh flowers and people line the streets waving little flags. When Emperor Hirohito toured a city in Japan he was accompanied by phalanxes of police officers and road were blocked off. Akihito tries to keep atmosphere more mellow by employing plain clothes police and policewomen. Traffic is only stopped on the side of the road that Emperor is traveling on.

Describing a visit to a Sony factory with handicapped workers by the Emperor, Robert Poole wrote in National Geographic, “All along the factory line, workers laughed with the Emperor, who moved down the line with the Empress, asking after each worker's health, inquiring about the work, treating each as if he were the only person in the room."

“'Don't your eyes get tired?' the Emperor asked a young man in a wheelchair. 'It's not too bad,' the worker answered, showing off as special pair of clippers he used to cut wires. 'Well, please take care of your health,' said the Emperor, moving on to the next worker...Without saying much at all, the Emperor and Empress worked a quiet magic here, transforming an ordinary day into something special. Everyone seemed to be smiling, comparing notes, trading stories."

In 1995, Akihito and Michiko touched people's heart when they entered a crowded gymnasium filled with survivors from the Kobe earthquake. They walked down the rows of people and patiently listened to their stories. This kind of simple human gesture was unknown before Akihito's reign. The Emperor once said, “When I wave, I look into the eyes of each person. Otherwise it is hard to convey my feelings to the people.”

The Emperor has also made an effort to visit victims of natural disasters that struck Japan. The Emperor and Empress visited the area hit by the eruption of Unzen volcano in 1991 and comforted victims of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and 2004 Niigata earthquake.

In July 2003, a man tried to ram a car into the car carrying Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. The car was blocked a police motorcycle. The royal couple were not injured.

Foreign Visits by Emperor Akihito

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The Emperor in Japan with
Chinese President Hu Jintao
Akihito is far and away, Japan's most well-traveled emperor. He has made 36 overseas trips and visited 55 countries, with countries visited when he was Crown Prince. On all of his trips he has been accompanied by Empress Michiko. She once said, “I believe a wife’s assistance for her husband’s success is to accompany [him], when he has to go somewhere.”

The imperial couple’s first trip overseas took place in September 1960, seven months after the Empress gave birth to Prince Hiro. During that 16-day trip to the United States they visited eight cities and attended 80 events and 16 luncheons and banquets. Among the hardships they suffered was a room without hot water which forced them to go to bed after only washing their feet and a busy day without breakfast because they got an early start and no none of the staff at hotel got up as early as they did.

The Emperor and Empress took a trip to the United States in June, 1994, doing many things they would never think of doing back home. The emperor shook hands with guests instead of bowing, let his wife enter a room first, and made a toast before a group of guests at a White House dinner.

During his visit to the U.S., the Imperial couple attended a few innings of a Cardinals-Pirates baseball game, toured Monticello, and went for a hike in the Rocky Mountains. At a museum in Atlanta the Emperor lifted the skirt of Scarlet O'Hara to show the Empress her pantalets. In Rocky Mountain National Park the Empress, wearing tennis shoes and pants, asked her driver to stop the car so she could run through a meadow near Sheep Lakes to “feel what sheep feel." [Source: T.R. Reid, Washington Post, June 11, 1994]

Emperor Akihito’s Health and Reduced Duties

In January 2003, 69-year-old Emperor Akihito underwent surgery to have his cancerous prostrate removed. The surgery was performed by a team lead by the president of the National Cancer Center. The cancer had been discovered in a medical check up a few weeks earlier. The crown prince took over official duties while his father recovered.

Since the surgery the Emperor has been receiving hormone injections once a month to halt the cancer’s growth. Thinning bones are one side effect of this treatment, In February 2008, it was announced that the Emperor and Emperors would cut back on the official duties because the Emperor suffered from occasional dizzy spells and risked developing osteoporosis because of the hormone treatment.

In December 2008, the Emperor canceled some official duties because of a temporary surge of high blood pressure and irregular pulse and bleeding in his stomach and small intestine that was said to be “due to stress.” The Emperor greeted the public from the balcony of the Imperial Palace, made a short speech and hosted banquet on his 75th birthday but otherwise curtailed his activities because of concerns about his health.

In early 2009 it announced the duties of the Emperor and the Empress would be reduced in response to health problems suffered by both of them. In a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency, speeches to crowds would be reduced from 16 to 10 and speeches, awards ceremonies and visits to parts of Japan would also be reduced with the Shunsai---a festival event at the Imperial Palace every month---conducted by palace officials. In February 2009, the crown prince vowed t do his best to “lighten the Emperor’s burden” in light of the Emperor’s declining health.

In February 2011, the Emperor spent the night in the hospital after being diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in his coronary arteries. He went to the hospital for tests after showing symptoms of cardiac ischemia---a condition caused by insufficient blood flow to the heart. The symptoms emerged during an exercise check during the Emperor’s regular check up in January. He was given medicine and told he could continue his duties and undertake exercise such as tennis and walking.

In November 2011, Emperor Akihito was treated at the University of Tokyo Hospital for bronchial pneumonia and a high fever, the Imperial Household Agency said. He stayed there for 18 days and resumed his official duties a few days after his release, attending a memorial service with Empress Michiko for firefighters killed in the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake. His appearance at the service, held in Tokyo's Minato Ward, was cut short because he was still recuperating. The emperor turned 78 in December 2011. [Source: Kyodo, Asahi Shimbun, November 25, 29, 2011]

Emperor Undergoes Heart Surgery in 2012

In February 2012, The Emperor underwent heart bypass surgery at the University of Tokyo Hospital, according to the Imperial Household Agency. Doctors in charge of the operation said they decided to perform the surgery after concluding it will improve the 78-year-old Emperor's quality of life. The Emperor reportedly expressed his understanding of the doctors' decision as the best treatment option. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 14, 2011]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: In February last year, the Emperor underwent a medical test after experiencing symptoms of cardiac ischemia, insufficient blood flow to the heart, when he was engaged in strenuous exercise. The test found his left circumflex artery, running on the left side of the heart, had narrowed by 75 percent to 90 percent, and the left anterior descending artery, running through the front of the heart downward, by about 75 percent. The Emperor was then put on medication.

Ichiro Kanazawa, medical supervisor of the Imperial Household, and others who examined the Emperor found that his left circumflex artery had further narrowed. Although continued treatment with medicine is an option, the doctors said they decided to perform heart bypass surgery to ensure sufficient blood flow and allow the Emperor to remain active.

The surgery was conducted by a team of doctors from the University of Tokyo Hospital and Juntendo University Hospital, which is known for its extensive experience in heart bypass surgery.According to Ryohei Yozu, professor of cardiovascular surgery at Keio University School of Medicine, heart bypass surgery is more effective than catheter-based therapy in restoring blood flow.

After the surgery was completed the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The emperor expressed relief after his successful heart bypass surgery Saturday, saying, “That feels good," when the Empress and their daughter held and gently rubbed his hands, according to doctors. The Emperor thanked his operating surgeons before the procedure, they added. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 20, 2012]

The doctors also looked relieved at a press conference, saying: “The operation was performed by the best team. [The Emperor's] postoperative condition has been stable." Also at the press conference, Ichiro Kanazawa, medical supervisor of the Imperial Household Agency, said with a slightly tense expression, “The surgery progressed smoothly and as scheduled, and has been completed." “The Empress has also conveyed her happiness to us," he said. Kanazawa began smiling and looked more relaxed toward the end of the press conference.

The surgery was completed in about four hours. When hospital officials told the Empress it had gone smoothly, she was visibly relieved, hospital sources said. The Empress was pleased a blood infusion, which increases the risk of complications, was unnecessary, and expressed her deep gratitude to the doctors. After awakening from anesthesia in the operating room, the Emperor nodded several times as doctors talked to him, the sources said. Then the Emperor was moved into an intensive care unit where he was visited by the Empress and their daughter, Sayako Kuroda, for a short time.

During the Emperor's operation, doctors found irregular cardiac rhythms in the atrium of his heart. In the days to come, they will keep a close watch on the Emperor's condition around the clock for possible irregular cardiac rhythms and dangerous changes in blood pressure.

The Emperor successfully underwent the surgery on February 18 and left the hospital on March 4. Later, he was treated twice to remove fluid in his chest. The emperor resumed his full duties after 53 days' absence for heart bypass surgery. At that tome Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet lifted a measure that had temporarily transferred the emperor's duties to Crown Prince Naruhito. A medical check in mid April found that fluid remains in his chest but has not increased since late March, according to Ichiro Kanazawa, chief medical officer at the Imperial Household Agency. [Source: Jiji Press, April 11, 2012]

Emperor and Empress After the Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011

On March 16, Emperor Akihito took the unprecedented step of addressing his people on television, telling them in a recorded message broadcast nationwide that he was “deeply worried” about the ongoing nuclear crisis and asking them to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.” Akihito reportedly had never before delivered a nationally televised address of any kind, not even in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people.”

In late April 2011 , Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited evacuation centers in quake- and tsunami-hit Miyagi, Iwater and Fukushima prefectures. They sat on their knees and chatted with evacuees and offered words of sympathy and encouragement, saying “Any problems with your health” and “Take care, please.” The Imperial couple had wanted to visit earlier but their frail health and other reasons delayed them. Even though the Imperial palace was not subject to the rolling blackouts imposed on Tokyo the Emperor and Empress showed solidarity with the those who were suffering by reduced their electricity consumption by eating simple meals by candlelight. They also donated food from the Imperial livestock farm and opened the hot spring bath at the Nasu Imperial villa in Nasumachi in Tochigi Prefecture to evacuees.

The Emperor and the Empress made several visits the quake- and tsunami-stricken areas. In May, Kyodo reported, they visited Fukushima Prefecture to give their support to evacuees who have been forced to flee their homes due the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The Imperial couple offered prayers as Fukushima Gov Yuhei Sato held an umbrella for them in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, and handed condolence money for disaster victims from their private coffers. Their visit to Fukushima, was the couple’s fifth to a prefecture hit by the disaster following Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Iwate.

According to Kyodo the Imperial couple took a helicopter to an evacuation center at a gymnasium in the city of Fukushima, where residents from Minamisoma were taking shelter, and also a shelter in Soma, where over 400 people had been killed or are still unaccounted for. The royal couple also thanked members of the SDF, police and firefighters working to retrieve bodies of the victims in the quake-hit areas.

The Emperor and Empress visited evacuees living in temporary housing in August.

Emperor Pitches in to Save Energy After the March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami

As part the effort to save energy after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the Emperor pitched in and did his part by conducting most of his official duties in the Imperial residence, rather than in the Imperial Palace. The current palace has a floor space of 23,000 square meters. Air conditioning there consumes a lot of power. The current Imperial residence, on the other hand, has an area of 4,940 square meters and the air conditioners are much more efficient than those in the palace. [Source: Shigeo Inoue, Yomiuri Shimbun, August 6, 2011]

Shigeo Inoue wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The Emperor has expressed a desire to perform his duties at his residence as much as possible to avoid the power-consuming palace. Even ceremonies such as the presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors and other state ceremonial events have recently been held at the Imperial residence. The hall has an area of about 100 square meters with a ceiling about 5-1/2 meters high. When the Emperor and the Empress met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in the this room the windows were wide open to take advantage of the breeze as the air-conditioning had been turned off.

The Imperial Household Agency is also doing its part in power-saving by scheduling events at the palace in early morning to avoid the peak hours of electricity use. An early morning event at the palace took place on July 14 when the Emperor met with students of the National Police Academy. This event has been scheduled in the afternoon in past years, but to keep air conditioner energy consumption low, the event started at 9:30 a.m. this year.

The Emperor voluntarily began to refrain from using power four days after the March 11 disaster in line with the rolling blackouts imposed by Tokyo Electric Power Co. The Emperor did so “to think of disaster victims and share their pain." He is said to have the same feeling on the energy-saving efforts this summer. The agency has a target of reducing power consumption at peak times by 20 percent or more from July through September compared to the same period last year. Agency officials are working hard to meet the target by checking power use levels every 30 minutes to meet the Emperor's expectations.

Emperor Attends Tsunami Anniversary 22 Days After Heart Surgery

The Emperor was released from the hospital in early March and attended an event commemorating the anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Reporting from Tokyo, Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post: At a theater in Tokyo, Japanese Emperor Akihito, 22 days after heart bypass surgery, stood for a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m.---the precise time when one year ago a 9.0-magnitude earthquake pulsed 80 miles off Japan’s northeastern coast. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post , March 11 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Accompanied by the Empress, the 78-year-old Emperor said, “I deeply appreciate the efforts of those who worked to help survivors and areas affected by the disaster. I'm also deeply grateful for the kindness of other countries following the disaster." The Emperor said, “I hope people in the country will continue to rebuild quake-struck areas." The Emperor and Empress entered the venue at 2:40 p.m. and left about 20 minutes later, out of concern for the health of the Emperor, who recently underwent heart surgery. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2012]

Worriers About Emperor Akihito’s Work Load

The Emperor’s official duties include signing or setting his seal to nearly 1,000 Cabinet documents each year; attending attestation ceremonies for the prime minister and other state ministers; holding receptions to welcome state guests; and visiting places around the nation. There are also many religious rites to be performed in the Imperial Court. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2012]

In November 2011, the Emperor was admitted to hospital with bronchial pneumonia. His team of doctors believed built-up exhaustion reduced his resistance to the disease.

Three years ago, the Imperial Household Agency took steps to lessen the burden imposed by the Emperor's official duties, such as no longer having him, in principle, give speeches at official ceremonies. However, the agency did not go as far as reducing the number of events the Emperor would attend.

When concerns arise over the Emperor's health and when he needs to recuperate in the future, flexible responses may be necessary, such as having the crown prince temporarily assume the Emperor's constitutional functions and act on his behalf, or have other Imperial family members attend events to speak on behalf of the Emperor.

Emperor Visits London for 60th Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's Accession

In May 2012, three months after the Emperor underwent cardiac surgery, the Emperor and Empress visited London to attend events to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne and express gratitude for Britain's help following last year's March 11 disaster. The Imperial Household Agency reported: “The Emperor and Empress managed a tight schedule during their recent visit to Britain.The Imperial couple renewed their old friendship with the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, during the ceremonies, which extended until late at night. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 24, 2012]

The main event was a luncheon for Queen Elizabeth attended by foreign royalty. On the day of the luncheon, the Emperor traveled one hour by car from London to Windsor Castle. After returning to the hotel and changing clothes, he attended a banquet at Buckingham Palace until late in the evening. The Imperial Household Agency reported: “The Emperor and Empress sat at the main table during a luncheon hosted by the queen and Prince Philip. Twenty-five monarchs and royal family members, including the Imperial couple, attended the luncheon. The Emperor sat immediately to the left of Queen Elizabeth, and the Empress was two seats away on the queen's right. There was no toast or formal speech during the luncheon, and the attendants reportedly enjoyed friendly conversations in a relaxed manner. “The Emperor and the queen share a friendship that has lasted for about 60 years. They both seemed nostalgic," Grand Chamberlain Yutaka Kawashima said. [Ibid]

“The Imperial couple met with British people who participated in relief efforts following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Emperor attended a meeting with Japanese citizens and talked with Keiko Holmes, who works to support British veterans who were prisoners of war of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The Emperor experienced a protest by former POWs during his first visit to Britain after his enthronement in 1998. In a comment released on May 11 ahead of his latest official visit, he referred to the harsh antipathy toward Japan he experienced 59 years ago. “Only a few people link the Emperor and World War II these days. Most British people accept the Emperor without special feelings," Holmes said. [Ibid]

Emperor Keeps Up Busy Schedule at Age 79

In late December 2012, The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Despite concerns about his advancing age, heightened by his recent heart problems, Emperor Akihito said he wants to continue to perform official duties at his current pace. At his first news conference in two years, ahead of his 79th birthday on Dec. 23, the emperor was asked about the possibility of focusing on minimum official duties, with other responsibilities shared by members of the imperial family. “I would like to maintain the status quo for the time being,” Akihito replied at the news conference at the Imperial Palace. “In addition to the matters of state designated by the Constitution of Japan, the duties of the emperor include symbolic duties which his status as a symbol makes it appropriate for the emperor to take on officially,” he said. [Source: Ryuichi Kitano and Yasuhiko Shima, Asahi Shimbun, December 23, 2012]

The emperor cited the National Arbor Day Festival and the award ceremony for the Japan Academy Prize as examples, saying that his father, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, carried out those duties even after he turned 80. “Should I be taken ill, Crown Prince (Naruhito) and Prince (Fumihito) will carry out my duties on my behalf, just as they did last year,” he said. “I am not worried about this at all as I have full confidence in them.” [Ibid]

“I caused worries to many people,” Akihito said, referring to the coronary artery bypass surgery he underwent in February. “Please rest assured because I am leading my life normally.” At the news conference, the emperor said he was “very happy” when he learned that the surgery was a success. He said Empress Michiko gave him “much reassurance and comfort” as she visited him every day during his hospital stay and accompanied him on walks along the hospital corridors. [Ibid]

“After my surgery, I experienced some aftereffects such as difficulty in doing the most simple things like running and hitting the ball when playing tennis, but I feel I can now hit the ball nearly as well as I used to,” he said. “I realized the importance of rehabilitation.” Meanwhile, the emperor, referring to the nation’s aging population, said: “I myself have noticed that I have become more prone to tripping while I was walking on mountain paths in recent years. It never occurred to me when I was younger that the incidence of tripping and falling would increase with old age.” [Ibid]

The emperor attended a ceremony in Tokyo to mark the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and also traveled to Britain in May to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations In October, the emperor visited the village of Kawauchi, Fukushima Prefecture, to observe removal of radioactive materials released from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was hit by last year’s earthquake and tsunami. He said decontamination and other post-quake reconstruction tasks “pose health risks to those engaged in them, which is of deep concern.” “I sincerely hope that all operations will be carried out safely,” Akihito said. The emperor, who visited Okinawa in November, said: “I feel it is important for all Japanese people to share with the people of Okinawa the memory of the calamity sustained by Okinawa in the last war.” [Ibid]

The Imperial Household Agency has reduced the burden on the emperor since 2009, cutting down on his speeches at events and his attendance at imperial ceremonies. Shingo Haketa, former grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, said the emperor is willing to continue to perform official duties and it is difficult to reduce them. “The emperor is taking on official duties in the belief that he is a symbol of the people because of his activities,” he told a news conference on his retirement in June. Haketa’s successor, Noriyuki Kazaoka, has said he will work closely with doctors to help the emperor stay healthy. “Maintaining the emperor’s health is the wish of the people and the top priority for the Imperial Household Agency,” he said. [Ibid]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The Emperor's duties have increased significantly since the reign of his father, Emperor Showa. For instance, the Emperor met with 120 foreign dignitaries at age 74, 1.6 times more than his father met with at that age, and made a total of 80 official visits to locations around the country, 2.3 times more than Emperor Showa. There have also been a number of “traditions" added since the start of the Heisei era, such as holding tea parties for returning ambassadors. Also, before meeting with overseas guests, the Emperor studies their backgrounds and the situation in their countries. While such efforts are invisible to the public, they consume quite a bit of time. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 25, 2012]

Image Sources: 1) Imperial Household Agency, Wikipedia, Getty Pictures, Japan Zone

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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