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Happy Birthday, Emperor Akihito: BANZAI, BANZAI, BANZAI!

Today (in Japan) is the 80th birthday of Emperor Akihito, reign name Heisei (Peaceful/Calm Time).

Born on December 23, 1933 while Japanese aggression was on an incline, Akihito has marked his time as Emperor with few, but stunning pronouncements. Under the post-WWII Constitution, the Emperor has little power (although strictly speaking, not none). He has, over the time of his reign, apologised directly (and I think sincerely) to many Asian countries for the actions of the Japanese government under the Tojo Administration during WWII. In addition, he recognised in 2001 that Korean immigrants from the Three Kingdoms Period fled to Japan and married into noble houses, including the Japanese royal line, and said that he felt affinity for the Korean people because of this shared heritage. He has visited WWII battlefields, most notably Saipan, where he honored not just Japanese soldiers, but US soldiers, Korean laborers, and local islanders.


For many Japanese, the Emperor is a very distant figure, without the cult of personality his predecessors enjoyed. However, when he does speak, the Japanese people tend to stop what they are doing and listen. While Japan is not a country known for its tendency to riot during emergencies, the Emperor still issued a very rare address during the Tohoku Earthquake a few years back, which called on the Japanese people to behave honorably in the face of hardship and to do their best to move through the tragedy. A significant number of Japanese listened to the Emperor's address that day, either live or in rebroadcasts, and it continues to be spoken about in very reverent tones to the present.

There are two times where one may see the Emperor, today at the palace in Tokyo, and later on New Years' Day at the palace. You may walk by the Emperor, quite closely, and wave to him/briefly speak to him if you are loud enough (but he is behind bullet proof glass, as he's a target for just about everyone on the political extremes, including the ultranationalists who see him as a stooge and would try to replace him with a son or grandson they could more easily control, or various Korean or Chinese ultranationalists that would take any opportunity given) on these two days and wish him "BANZAI, BANZAI, BANZAI" which means "may your line reign for a thousand years." I myself "met" the Emperor this way in 2009.


ETA: One of my coworkers is currently in line to see the Emperor already. Just saw the FB status message. :P

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