Deciphering the throne
The author is a Tokyo correspondent at the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Emperor weather,” said a professor who appeared on NHK on Oct. 22, the day of the enthronement. It had rained the previous day, but the rain stopped as the ceremony began.
On the NHK website, an article about the clear weather on the day of the enthronement ceremony topped the “Most Read” list. It was followed by an article about the first snow on Mount Fuji.
Some people even said that the rain that day was thanks to the sword in charge of the clouds that are among the three sacred treasures in Japanese legend. I felt eerie as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stretched his arms out and shouted “Tennoheika Banzai” three times.
Among the nearly 2,000 guests at the ceremony, two people stood out. One was 17-year-old student Rinko Sagara, who recited “Poem of Peace” at the memorial ceremony for war victims in Okinawa last year, and the other was 87-year-old Setsuko Thurlow, an activist at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
Rinko Sagara’s “Poem of Peace” is about the Battle of Okinawa, that resulted in 200,000 casualties, and contains a strong anti-war message.
“That day turned this island that I love into an island of death.”
“There is no real peace from possessing the foolish force of war potential.”
Her words were also a message to the Abe government pushing to expand bases belonging to U.S. forces despite the opposition of the residents of Okinawa.
Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor, represented ICAN and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on its behalf. In her acceptance speech she emphasized that Japan had been bombed and strongly censured the Abe government for not participating in the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In fact, the Japanese government showed a lukewarm response when ICAN won the Nobel Prize. The foreign ministry issued a statement two days later, quite a stark contrast to when Abe personally sent a congratulatory message to Kazuo Ishiguro, a British novelist of Japanese heritage who won the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year.
While both were not welcomed by Abe, they have deep connections to the Akihito couple. The two were invited to the ceremony as an expression by the new Japanese emperor to continue the anti-war, peace message of Akihito.
The discrepancy between the efforts to find a trace of god from the Japanese emperor, the imperial sovereignty in the ceremony, and a human emperor as a symbolic figure cannot be closed easily.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 25, Page 32