The Japanese Emperor – and the end of the Heisei?


The Japanese emperor (tennou 天皇) is said to be descended directly from the sun goddess Amaterasu, and today represents the Japanese constitutional monarchy. With such a long lineage filled with time-honored customs, and tied to modern Japan through the constitution, there seems to be little room for grand changes.

Yet at the end of 2018 a major change may occur in the imperial system.

Customarily, the Japanese emperor serves as the imperial head of Japan for the duration of his natural life. Succession occurs with his death, and the title of emperor is passed on to his first-born son. However, at the end of 2018, Emperor Akihito may step down and pass on his title. This would be the first time that the title would be passed on while the present emperor, or kinjyoutennou 今上天皇, was still living.

Imperial Palace

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo – photo by kei

Why pass on the title?

There are a number of reasons why passing on the title, or abdicating, during his lifetime would serve both the emperor and the country as a whole. In the present day where health care is better than it’s ever been and people are living many years longer than their ancestors, the emperor may indeed live for many more years. As the emperor, at the age of 83, he must work 25 days out of the month (I work 21-22 days out of the month). I imagine that this is quite tiring!

Also, as Japan is preparing for the 2020 Olympic games, the emperor will be expected to serve as a symbol for the country. He will need to make public appearances, and if he unexpectedly falls ill during the games, this might dampen the spirits of the host country.

These are some reasons which may be behind the decision for early abdication by the emperor.

Imperial Palace

The Imperial residence buildings in Tokyo – photo by kei

Why is this decision so monumental?

The early abdication of an emperor is an event that has never occurred since the institution of Japan’s national constitution in 1947. In fact, as I understand it, the language even prevents the early abdication (likely as a safeguard against the emperor’s title being removed). Thus, to allow for this unprecedented circumstance, the Japanese constitution itself must be amended.

A committee took an initial vote on whether the emperor should be allowed to abdicate, and while the decision has not been finalized, it seems that the committee was favorable to allowing the emperor to go through with this. The change might not be permanent, though, as the government seems to favor only allowing the abdication for Emperor Akihito, rather than applying it to all succeeding emperors.

Still, Emperor Akihito may step down at the end of 2018, and pass down his title to his son, Crown Prince Naruhito (who is 56), on the first of January 2019. This would bring the Heisei 平成 era to an end at 30 years, and begin the new era – which may be named as early as this year.

How do you think the Japanese government should handle this decision? Allow him to abdicate? Make it a permanent rule? Do you think this is a good decision for Japan? Let me know in the comments!

Japanese Diaries Day 34 Part 2 – Imperial Palace & Tokyo Station


It was the last day of my one-month trip to Japan, and my last sightseeing trip with my fiance before I headed back to the states was to Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 and the Imperial Palace 皇居 in Tokyo.



After walking through Meiji Shrine 明治神宮 and eating some amazing shrine food (and of course picking up some omiyage), my fiance and I took the train from Meijijingu-mae Station (明治神宮前駅) to Otemachi Station (大手町駅) on the Chiyoda Line (千代田線). From there, we walked a short distance to the outer gardens of the Imperial Palace or Koukyo 皇居.

Wadakura Fountain Park

Wadakura Fountain Park, outside Otemachi Station on the way to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo – photo by kei

The Imperial Palace is the official residence of the Japanese Emperor. The huge grounds contain the main palace or Kyuuden 宮殿 as well as the imperial family’s private residence. The grounds are built over the site of the previous Edo Castle and includes 3.41 sq km with the gardens.

Imperial Household Agency Building

The view of the Imperial Household Agency Building from outside the Imperial Palace grounds – photo by kei

The Imperial Palace is generally off limits to the general population, but visitors are allowed inside on two occasions: December 23rd – the emperor’s birthday, and January 2nd – for New Year. Visitors can gather in the plaza of the main palace, and watch an address by the imperial family from the balcony.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Outside the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds – photo by kei

After a brief visit at the Imperial Palace, I have some suggestions for those planning to visit! My first suggestion is not to go in the middle of winter, because the gardens are dormant, and I imagine spring or autumn offer much better views. If you are interested in going to see the imperial family, just be aware that it will be very crowded on either the Emperor’s birthday or the New Year! The second suggestion is not to approach it from the south later in the day, because the pathways that cross the compound to the Fukiage Gardens on the western side of the Imperial Palace have restricted access just before dusk (like the Otemon 大手門 gate). I wish I had gone to the gardens earlier, because they are quite extensive, but I didn’t want to walk around the entire compound to get back to the station when the pathways closed. I really had poor planning for this stop ^^;; Check the Imperial Palace Official Site (and click on the Guide in Facilities link) to see the map of the grounds.

Tokyo Imperial Palace

Tokyo, outside the Imperial Palace – photo by kei

When dusk began to fall, we headed to Tokyo Station 東京駅, where we visited at Christmas, which is only a 10 minute walk away from the Imperial Palace. I wanted to do some shopping at the character shops that have special Tokyo Station editions of some of the most popular characters (like Hello Kitty & Rilakkuma), and then we headed back to my fiance’s apartment.

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station – photo by kei

I really didn’t want the day to end, because the next day I would be getting on a plane back to the US and my graduate studies. I would have to leave behind my fiance until he could join me later in the year, and that was not a pleasant thought. But, I had spent over a month with him in Japan traveling, getting to know his family, and most decidedly not studying, and so it was time to return to university and prepare to defend my thesis.

Next time, the exciting conclusion to my adventure: flying home on an airplane! Stay tuned (we’re almost to the end)!

Have you visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo? Do you have any suggestions to plan a better trip? Have you ever had a trip go not quite as well as you had planned? Or maybe you didn’t plan at all and it was the best trip ever? Let me know in the comments!