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Japanese king marks last birthday on throne

Updated December 24, 2018

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TOKYO: Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are seen through Japanese national flags as they wave to well-wishers at the Imperial Palace on Sunday. In this 1945 photo (top right), then crown prince Akihito is going to a school in Tokyo. Akihito was 11 years old when he heard his father’s voice announcing Japan’s World War II surrender on the radio on Aug 15, 1945. Recently released wartime diaries and notes of schoolteacher Koichi Suzuki (bottom right), who taught Akihito and his classmates during their evacuation outside Tokyo in the last two years of World War II.—Agencies
TOKYO: Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are seen through Japanese national flags as they wave to well-wishers at the Imperial Palace on Sunday. In this 1945 photo (top right), then crown prince Akihito is going to a school in Tokyo. Akihito was 11 years old when he heard his father’s voice announcing Japan’s World War II surrender on the radio on Aug 15, 1945. Recently released wartime diaries and notes of schoolteacher Koichi Suzuki (bottom right), who taught Akihito and his classmates during their evacuation outside Tokyo in the last two years of World War II.—Agencies

TOKYO: Japan’s Emperor Akihito, marking his 85th birthday, his last before upcoming abdication, said he feels relieved that his reign is coming to an end without having seen his country at war and that it is 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 on Sunday. “It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War II and that the peace and prosperity of postwar 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.”

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 is 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.

Pacifist views

As emperor, Akihito has made unprecedented visits to the Philippines and other Pacific islands conquered by Japan early in World War II and devastated in fierce fighting as the US-led allies took them back. 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’s pacifist image and his compassion for disaster victims, the handicapped and the minorities have gained public support for him and his family. Experts say Akihito’s pacifist views may have come from his childhood wartime experiences.

Akihito was 11 years old when he heard his father’s voice announcing Japan’s World War II surrender on the radio on Aug 15, 1945. During the subsequent US occupation of Japan, he was tutored in English by Elizabeth Vining, a Quaker, an experience that experts say gave Akihito his pacifist and democratic outlook.

In recently released wartime diaries and notes of schoolteacher Koichi Suzuki, who taught Akihito and his classmates during their evacuation outside of Tokyo in the last two years of the war, Akihito’s life is removed from his parents amid food shortages and frequent air raid sirens.

On Aug. 13, 1945, Akihito and Suzuki had to run up the hill as eight U.S. warplanes flew above them the moment they jumped into an unfinished bunker, Suzuki wrote. His April 17, 1946 note showed Akihito read a haiku about the people living in barracks in the devastated neighborhood under the falling snow.

Akihito is the first emperor enthroned under Japan’s postwar 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.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2018

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