Emperor: love, peace and reverence
Two weeks ago I was lucky to observe the Imperial Majesties Emperor and Empress at close, not just one but two times. Both were random co-incidence - I just happened to be at Karuizawa station same time - but they once again helped me to understand how much revered and loved by the people this old couple is.
The stairs and long corridor that lead from the platforms to the street, where cars wait, was packed with people, old and young, leaving little space for the Imperial couple to walk through. Some were waiving small Hinomaru flags, but everybody was dead silent in reverence. Emperor and Empress looked so frail that the long walk must have been already quite an exercise for them, but they kept smiling, waiving hand and several times stopped to talk with people.
As many know, Karuizawa is a special place for them: they met there for the first time on tennis court when he was still a Crown Prince and she was daughter of a big company CEO. Later they spent many summers there in Imperial Villa with children and grand children. Local TV showed old films of them playing tennis, bicycling and working on a cabbage field in neighboring Tsumagoi – the fields there stretch as long as eye can meet. Yes, Nagano is famous for its vegetable produce! Emperor learned it already as child when he was evacuated there from Tokyo during war time. The capital had serious lack of food then, but there's never lack of cabbage and soba in Nagano.
Further out same way is Kusatsu, the famous onsen town where the couple has visited also many times. It experienced a sudden volcano explosion last winter and has continued to tremble ever since affecting badly the usually busy tourist business.
It is clear that the Imperial couple visited there this time to show example it is safe for all.
According news, Empress played piano in a small concert. She is a good classical pianist according to my Finnish musician friends, who have played with her. It is amazing that somebody 85 year old - an amateur, not a professional - has kept up such skills and is not afraid to show them in public.
While Karuizawa visit might have been a romantic memory trip for the Imperial couple, countless other visits that they have done over the years, have been for more serious purposes. They have been around the country to see people in good times as well as bad, kneeled in evacuation centers to comfort people who lost their homes in natural catastrophes, talked with kids in schools and scientists in their laboratories, seen countless museums, gardens, farms and exhibitions. In many ways, despite his high position, Emperor has shown affection closer to the normal people than some of the popularity seeking politicians.
Remarkably, Emperor and Empress have also visited just about every WW2 battle field from Okinawa, Guam, Saipan and Philippines to far away small Pacific islands to pay respect for those who died in the senseless war, not only Japanese but all. Think it's been a kind of mission from his father, who was accused for not standing up strongly enough against his generals recklessly plunging Japan to a war it had no chance to win. As well, Emperor has steadfastly refused to have any contact with Yasukuni, the self-declared peace shrine that is widely associated as war monument in neighboring countries. Many people today don't know that so did his father ever since 1945 when he had power enough to decide by himself.
When Hirohito, Showa Emperor died, he was 85 and said he had no will to live anymore being forever accused of war. His son is now 85 as well and we all wish him long peaceful life in relaxing privacy after 30 years of remarkable work for his people.
It's still 8 months to go to the retirement, but media is already looking back at the Heisei era – what remarkable events happened? what will be its legacy? -
and guessing what will be the name of the new era for Crown Prince Naruhito once he ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne. What we know is that the new Emperor cannot decide the name by himself, but it will be a committee of experts on history and kanji symbols. Western considerations also count a little: we know that the alphabetical writing of the new name will not start with H, S, T or M as they are the starting letters of four previous periods. Calendar publishers are waiting anxiously: calendars are big business and many still use Imperial years, so they will be able to sell two sets of calendars for 2019.
All this to show that life goes on here peacefully in case some readers worry Japan is on edge of destruction after watching news of typhoon No.21 making havoc in Osaka - and a powerful earthquake in Hokkaido just two days later. This year's No.21 was the strongest typhoon in 25 years, they say, but the human toll was minimal compared to No.15 just a month before when over 200 people perished in flash floods and mudslides. It's clear that well-built infrastructure in cities stand heavier punishment than flimsy houses by riversides and mountain slopes in country. It would also help if country people would follow evacuation warnings and leave their homes to safe places in good time.
Unfortunately there will be even stronger typhoons to come: extreme heat like this summer and extreme powerful storms both result from the same phenoma, climate change and global warming. It is appalling that powers-to-be cannot get the carbon emissions in check. Many countries who committed to Paris emission reductions struggle to keep up with their self-set targets – Japan included - while emitter No.1 keeps adding countless coal plants that counter its good efforts to other direction, namely nuclear power and electric cars. The air quality might look better in Beijing and Shanghai, but China's overall emission load keeps still increasing. Things look even worse in No.2 emitter country where the current government has given up all pretension and actively works to destroy any rules it earlier had to limit emissions and environmental damage. Spurred by local demand, Detroit car makers are giving up making normal cars – not just small cars but all sedans - all together to focus on huge V8 pick-up trucks and SUV's that make more than 50% of US market. Worse, they insist the rest of us should also buy these gas guzzlers or else...
Developments like this make joke of others' serious devotion and best efforts. As result, we all suffer.
Tokyo, September 6, 2018
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The columnist is a Japan veteran among Finnish business, our Chamber ex-president and today Member of the Board of Trustees.
After running a major Finnish industry company's Japan business for over 20 years, he is now Senior Associate in a strategic consulting company.