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Japan's ruling party flexes its muscles as Emperor abdicates

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Rachel Rhodes

Japan’s Emperor Akihito is expected to abdicate the throne on April 30, ushering in the new Reiwa era under his son, Prince Naruhito. Emperor Akihito has been on the throne for 30 years, acceding after the death of his father, Hirohito.

Kristin Roebuck

Assistant Professor of History

Kristin Roebuck, professor of history at Cornell University, is a historian of modern Japan and is writing a book entitled “Japan Reborn: Race and the Family of Nations after World War II”. She says that procedures around Emperor Akihito’s abdication highlight the power of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to both preserve and modernize elements of the royal tradition.

Roebuck says:

"Japan is in for a series of firsts: the first emperor, Akihito, to abdicate in the modern era, and the first emperor, Naruhito, born after Japan’s defeat in World War II. 

"When Japan’s postwar constitution came into effect in 1947, the emperor was defined as a symbol of Japanese unity and deprived of governmental powers. Akihito had to ask his government’s permission to abdicate. Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians presented themselves as Akihito’s loyal servants by granting his request without acknowledging a right to abdicate at will. They have preserved the throne as a hereditary and compulsory institution that symbolically binds the people to the state.  

"The Japanese calendrical system counts time from the ascension of an emperor, so the LDP has assigned a reign name, 'Reiwa,' to the new era. In another first, the reign name is drawn from classical Japanese rather than Chinese sources, a move that signals the LDP’s increasingly muscular rejection of Chinese influence."

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