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Continuing on Their Course toward Reconciliation between Japan and other Nations: Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko To Visit Pearl Harbour

  March 3, 2009 at 12:02 pm by

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko

Click the image to see the article at The Daily Telegraph

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko may visit Pearl Harbor, the scene of Japan’s surprise attack that ushered in the Pacific War, next July, following a visit to Canada. Such an event would symbolize the postwar reconciliation between Japan and the United States as no sitting Japanese prime minister has, to the present day, gone to Pearl Harbor.

If this should come to pass it would be one important step more on the path towards reconciliation and peace that the present Tenno has chosen to take from the very first moment of his reign: in April 1989, only three months after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, Akihito addressed the Chinese people, expressing his remorse for the suffering that had been caused by the Japanese occupation of their country. Further statements to the same effect on his trips to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia followed. He also remarked that he felt a kinship with Korea (that had for some time been a Japanese colony) and explained that the mother of the Japanese Emperor Kammu (736-806) was a descendant of Muryeong, the 25th king of Baekje (one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea). Accompanied by Empress Michiko, Emperor Akihito has also visited numerous war-linked places, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa, expressing thereby his deep desire to promote national and international reconciliation.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko

Click the image to see the photo at ANP Beeldbank

At this point, someone who knows a bit about the Japanese constitution may say: “Well, the Emperor has no choice anyway about where he goes. If he visits Okinawa or Indonesia, it is not his merit, and if he stays at home, it can neither be called his fault. He is just a puppet, sent by the government to wherever they choose.” But, unfortunately, the question: “Who is executing power?” has, in Japanese history as well as today, never been that easy to answer…

It is true that, under the new Constitution after the Second World War, the Emperor was to have no role whatsoever in political matters. Yet, throughout the 1950s, numerous Cabinet ministers, along with the head of the Metropolitan police and the Governor of Tokyo, met secretly with Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, in order to give him political briefings on the state of the government and country. This should, from a strictly legal point of view, certainly never have happened. The Emperor had, according to law, definitely no business to give any advice to political officials. But it seems that he nevertheless did it sometimes… So, it is to be supposed that although the Japanese Emperor is, theoretically, strictly constrained by his constitutional position, he still has to this day a certain informal influence on political matters, although it would be a matter of scholarly debate to decide, to which extent.

Anyway, while on their way of promoting peace (the kanji of Emperor Akihito’s reign, the Heisei-era, mean: “peace everywhere”) in the beginning of the nineties, the imperial couple also weighed a visit to Pearl Harbor, on occasion of their official trip to the United States in June 1994, but finally decided against it. And part of the reason for this may have been that their course had already met with resistance at home…

Although the Emperor’s initiatives for peace and understanding were very popular with most Japanese, there were still some who thought that it hurt the Japanese dignity to express regrets for the past and who did not choose to stay silent. It was (and is), of course, absolutely impossible for any Japanese to directly criticize the sacred person of the Tenno, but there still were ways to “work around it”. In June 1993, a campaign against Empress Michiko was started by the media which lasted for four months – until the shocked Empress lost her voice. Spectators of this incident have remarked that it could be assumed that these attacks had been aimed only partly at Michiko and that she was, at the time, serving as a “scapegoat” for her husband who had been acting in too “modern” a way for the taste of some…

So, it can hardly surprise anybody that Japanese officials are still refusing to confirm any dates concerning the Pearl Harbour-visit. Japan’s small but vocal right-wing groups are unlikely to welcome the scheme. And if the visit should, after all, turn out to be politically inevitable, they would certainly prefer it to be carried out as inconspicuously as possible: Under the latest plan, the Emperor and Empress will only unofficially stop over in Hawaii. They will primarily interact with local Japanese-American groups and visit Pearl Harbor during a break.

To read about the current events of the Emperor and Empress, see this thread.

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