How to achieve national unity
The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
With Crown Prince Naruhito ascending to the throne and the Reiwa era kicking off, Japan feels like it is off to a fresh start. It is the first time in 202 years that a Japanese emperor has been replaced through abdication. The atmosphere is completely different from the funeral-like mood in the first year of Heisei 30 years ago, after the death of Emperor Hirohito opened a new era.
Japanese people feel especially compassionate toward former Emperor Akihito, who decided to abdicate. There is a moment the Japanese people vividly remember, and it is often shown on NHK News these days. When Emperor Akihito and his wife visited a senior facility in Tokyo in the early days of his reign, he played a game of rock, paper, scissors, with the loser having to massage the shoulders of the winner. The emperor lost the game and pretended to rub the shoulders of an old woman who won.
Because the scene was so unusual for the time, the royal court was shocked. A veteran reporter at Mainichi Shimbun covering the royal family wrote that the aides who served Emperor Hirohito in the Showa era were especially shocked. This was unthinkable in Hirohito’s time.
Akihito did not stop there. He was seen kneeling on a stadium floor and consoling earthquake victims, and, over time, people became used to his modest behavior. Being a symbol of national unity, Japanese media credited the former emperor for molding the image of a Japanese emperor his own way. Naruhito’s first pledge on May 1 was to think about the people, approach the people and fulfill his duty as the symbol of uniting the nation according to the constitution.
It is clearly awkward that the Japanese people uniformly praise the emperor, as Japan invaded Korea during the Meiji era and tormented Korea with war during the Showa era. Yet I envy the vitality across Japanese society with the presence of a symbol of national unity and a new era.
Two years into a new administration, long-standing evils are still a controversial issue in Korea. Those who should work for national unity actually divide the nation. I interviewed Kyoto University Prof. Hiroshi Nakanishi about Korea-Japan relations in the new Reiwa era and he said that Japan needs to enhance their understanding of the diversity of the Korean society.
At a time when Japanese want to respect the diversity of Korean society, I am depressed of our reality in which that diversity is not respected.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 29
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