2. Akihito inherited the Japanese throne from his father, but ditched the militarism and divine rule bits
At the end of the Second World War, a number of Japanese politicians and military leaders were tried for war crimes. The country’s Emperor, Hirohito, however, was not. To this day, the decision to not put him on trial for his nation’s conduct in the bloody war remains controversial. Indeed, for some historians, Hirohito was directly irresponsible for the numerous atrocities perpetrated by the Imperial Forces during the 1930s and 40s. Others, however, maintain that he was largely a powerless figurehead with no real control over how war was waged.
As part of the peace process, Hirohito was forced to denounce the claim that the Japanese Emperor was divinely-appointed. Thus, when Akihito, his eldest son, came to the throne in 1990, he began a new era. Unlike all of his predecessor, Akihito, who was born in Tokyo Imperial Palace in 1933, did not receive any military training. Instead, he moved away from warfare and instead studies politics at the renowned Gakushwin University.
Much of Akihito’s reign contrasts markedly with that of his father. While Hirohito believed the Emperor needed to be aloof, his successor has made a concerted effort to bring the royal family closer to the people. For instance, he married a commoner, breaking a 1,500-year-old imperial tradition, plus he has travelled far wider and met more other leaders than any Emperor before him. What’s more, Akihito has pledged to step down in 2019. Up until now, it has been unthinkable for a Japanese Emperor to abdicate, and his decision has split opinion in the country.
Perhaps above all, Akihito has helped guide Japan away from its militaristic and imperial past. Significantly, in 2015 he stated: “Looking back at the past, together with deep remorse over the war, I pray that this tragedy of war will not be repeated and together with the people express my deep condolences for those who fell in battle and in the ravages of war.” Such a statement would never have been issued by his father.