Akihito’s resignation to comeIn a rare pre-taped video broadcast, Japan’s Emperor Akihito indicated that he was considering abdication citing his ailing health and old age. Japan’s imperial household law requires the emperor to serve in the position until death. Under the postwar pacifist Constitution, the emperor is a symbol of the state devoid of political position. The monarch has been peace-loving figure and amicable towards Korea. His resignation could have various ramifications on Japan as well as the region.
To visiting South Korean President Roh Tae-woo in 1990, he apologized on behalf of the state for the pains the imperial Japan caused to Koreans. “I think of the suffering your people underwent during this unfortunate period (Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization), which was brought about my country, and cannot but feel the deepest regret.”
Ahead of the co-hosting in 2001 of the World Cup finals, he shared his personal attachment to Korea citing his blood ties of his ancestors despite the denial and protest from the right-wing camp about acknowledging the fact.
“I, on my part, feel a certain kinship with Korea, given the fact that it is recorded in the Chronical of Japan that the mother of Emperor Kammu was of the line of King Muryeong of Baekje (Korean descendent) 13 hundred years ago,” he told reporters. During his visit to Saipan in 2005, he stopped to pay respect to a memorial tower for Koreans.
In his New Years address in 2015, the year that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he said “I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country.”
He sent strong message against the endeavors by some Japanese to white-wash and glorify the imperialist past. He helped to contain Tokyo from turning outright right under the nationalistic Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But Japanese rightists, having rewritten the post-war Constitution to reauthorize the military, want to revive the authority of the emperor beyond a symbolic figure.
Neighbor countries with bitter memories from aggression from imperial Japan could be provoked when Japan re-institutionalize political power of the emperor.
Some fear Emperor Akihito’s abdication which requires constitutional rewriting could bring about broader amendment in the emperor’s role. We must pay close attention to movements in Japan.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 9, Page 30