On May 1, 2019, Japan embraced the new Reiwa era as the new Emperor of Japan, Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne following the historic abdication by a living Japanese monarch since 1817. Emperor Naruhito, the 126th Emperor of Japan, succeeded his father Akihito who was Japan’s first Emperor to inherit the throne under the post-War pacifist constitution that defines the monarch as a symbol of the state. The abdication ceremony was held on April 30 at the Imperial Palace’s Pine Chamber and subsequently succession ceremonies were held on May 1. The enthronement ceremony for Emperor Naruhito is scheduled in October which will be attended by foreign dignitaries. At the abdication ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conveyed his deepest appreciation to the Emperor for his service to the Japanese people and stressed that going forward; Japan will work hard for a future full of peace and hope.
Naming the new era is an important event in Japanese society. Japan uses this system since 645 AD, when the Taika era began. The era names denote the length of an emperor’s reign. Earlier on April 1, Japanese cabinet decided on the name of the new era — Reiwa, which implies ‘beautiful harmony’. It is taken from Manyoshu, Japan’s oldest poetry anthology, compiled more than 1,200 years ago. The new Reiwa era is preceded by the three decades of Heisei from 1989 until the abdication on 30 April 2019. Previously the Showa era, which paved the way to the Heisei era extended over 64 years from 1926 to 1989. It is the longest-lasting era name in Japanese history.
To facilitate the first abdication in two centuries, Japanese Diet in 2017 enacted a special abdication law following Emperor Akihito’s desire to step down owing to health issues. During the abdication ceremony, Emperor Akihito expressed gratitude to the Japanese people for accepting and supporting his role as the symbol of the state. During his three decades as the Emperor of Japan, He performed his role with empathy and has been with the people in times of national crisis including during natural disasters. He has also contributed in strengthening India-Japan relations. Their Majesties, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Delhi and Chennai in 2013 as testimony to the close and friendly relations that exist between India and Japan. The visit commemorated the 60thanniversary of the India-Japan diplomatic relations. Earlier in 1960, he had visited India along with his wife as the Crown Prince.
The Heisei era presented mixed experience for Japan and it is important to draw from the lessons of the Heisei, as Japan embarks on the new Reiwa era. Japanese people experienced the lost decades and witnessed the burst of the asset-inflated bubble boom. Japan is navigating the colossal challenge of having one of the largest gross debt-to-GDP ratios in the world. Moreover the economy needs to manage the stress of an aging society. Going forward in the Reiwa era, Japan needs to deliver on structural reforms of the economy. Japan will focus on leveraging its advanced technologies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geo-strategically, as great power competition intensifies, Japan will need to reinforce its role as a Proactive Contributor to Peace, a guardian of the global commons and upholder of the liberal international order. Japan will continue to invest in strengthening its alliance with the US in the Reiwa era as it faces the ‘most severe security environment in its post-War history’ given the advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and China’s maritime activities in the East China Sea. Japan will focus on both internal balancing and external balancing by reorienting the security posture, on the one hand, and stepping up as a more proactive ally of the US and weaving a universal values-based network of allies in the Indo-Pacific, on the other.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia