A True Fighter Will Never Give Up: Emperor Akihito of Japan and His Sense of Duty

  February 26, 2009 at 6:31 pm by

Emperor Akihito, New Year 2009

Click the image to see the gallery at Zimbio

The Imperial Household Agency disclosed last month that it intends to lessen the burden on Emperor Akihito of Japan by reducing his duties throughout the year.

There is apparently good reason in this measure: 75-year-old Akihito is shouldering a workload that surpasses that of his father, Emperor Showa, in considerable measure. Emperor Showa, at age 74, met foreign dignitaries and ambassadors on 75 occasions in one year, his son did so on 120 occasions last year. Emperor Showa was called out on official duties in and out of Tokyo on 35 occasions, his son on 80 occasions. And that does not mean in the least that Emperor Showa was leading an easy life: His chamberlain remembered that the Emperor collapsed twice during a Shinto ritual when he was 73. Emperor Akihito, who is past that age, participated in all the Shinto rituals until last year.

But then, last year on Dec. 2, the emperor suddenly complained of tightness in his chest. Doctors who examined him confirmed he had arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and inflammation in his stomach and duodenum. Ichiro Kanazawa, who heads the emperor’s medical team, said that his condition was caused by stress and that it was imperative that the emperor’s official duties be curtailed.

Easily said… Crown Prince Naruhito is well aware of his father being overworked, he has already previously, in February 2008, expressed his concerns and has remarked that his parents needed “more time for rest” (see this news report). Last Friday, on his birthday news conference, the prince said that he would “do whatever it takes to help improve the situation” while respecting his father’s wish to fulfill his duties. And, we have to add, this could prove to be a contradiction. The Crown Prince is obviously not the only one trying to alleviate his father’s burden and facing this special problem: There is said to have been a “tug of war” between the emperor – who regards his duties as important – and Imperial Household Agency officials, who wanted to lighten his workload out of concerns for his health.

Akihito and Michiko on their wedding day

Click the image to see the photo at ANP Beeldbank

The emperor is obviously a hard fighter who is not apt to give up easily. And there are good reasons for this which have their foundation in the early experiences of his childhood and youth. According to tradition that demands the heir of the Chrysanthemum Throne to be raised separated from his family, he had been taken from his parents when he was three years old. From then on he lived in a palace by himself (with a lot of servants, of course). There was a special room in the palace where pictures of his parents hung. And every morning the little prince went into this room to bid his parents’ pictures a respectful “Good morning”, and every evening again to say “Goodnight.” He later told Empress Michiko that he had felt so lonely that he was resolved not to die before he could marry and be part of a family again.

And this was not the only hardship of his youth: When he was a teenager Japan lost the war, and his father Hirohito was very close to being put to trial as a war criminal. And Hirohito was very well aware of the danger. He told General MacArthur: “You can do with me whatever you want. You can even send me to the gallows. But please do not let my people starve.” MacArthur decided against it, but still, on Akihito’s fifteenth birthday, seven Japanese were executed as war criminals by the Allied Powers. The birthday ceremonies were cancelled.

Later, in 1958, Akihito heard of king Faisal II of Iraque (who was his age and whom Akihito knew personally) having lost his throne by a putsch and having been killed. Obviously, Akihito thought it possible that something similiar might happen also to him: for a certain time, he took the habit of practicing type-writing. His friend Akira Hashimoto asked him for the reason of this exercise. Akihito answered with seriousness: “If anything happens I will be able to work as a typist.”

Considering this background, it is quite easy to understand why Emperor Akihito should have developed such a very strong sense of duty and why he never in his life could afford to have much patience with or much compassion upon himself. But still, even a hard and strong fighter is, after all, only human and can never, in the long run, brave d.eath and old age. It is to be hoped that the iron soldier will still have the time to learn to be soft with himself and to enjoy the well-earned rest and the good-willed support that is offered him by his loved ones…

For more information, read this report at Asahi. To read about the current events of the Emperor and Empress, see this thread.

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