Professor Emerita, Japanese Literature and Cultural History (GSAS)
Ongoing Director, IMJS: Japanese Cultural Heritage Initiatives, Columbia University,
“When the Emperor of Japan Becomes Emeritus”,
Two months from now, in April 2019, in an unprecedented development and to the consternation of the Japanese government, Japan’s most beloved Emperor, Akihito (b.1933-; r.1989-), will at last, after nine years of waiting, be granted his wish to retire from the throne and to cede it to his son, the Crown Prince. The Emperor, who will be 86 years old in December, is the 125th Emperor in the world’s longest uninterrupted monarchy that goes back in verifiable records more than 1500 years (and with named emperors expanding back even into pre-history. A modern “tradition,” begun only in the 20th century, dictates that an emperor’s reign is to end only in death. Emperor Akihito himself succeeded his father, Emperor Hirohito, at the latter’s death in 1989. A captive of new laws surrounding that new tradition, Emperor Akihito shocked the Imperial Household Agency and the government, Prime Minister Abe by informing them he felt incapable of adequately carrying out his onerous duties due to declining health. He did not wish to subject the people of Japan to a morbid wait for him to die nor to have his son accede to the throne in a state of mourning. We will take a look at what being an Emperor and Empress in Japan entails; the traditions and rituals of poetry, music, and compassion required in maintaining the stability of this imperial line; and modern issues that have emerged as society changes.
Tuesday Talks are scheduled in Faculty House on the Morningside campus on alternate Tuesdays during the academic year. EPIC members, faculty, and invited guests speak on topics that range across the academic spectrum and also address issues of particular importance to the retired academic community. Participants can continue their discussion at lunch in the Faculty House Dining Room at a special reduced rate for EPIC members. Guests are welcome.