Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito at Togu Palace in Tokyo on April 11. In February, he said he was ready to become emperor upon the expected abdication of his father. (REUTERS PIC)

Malaysia rolled out the red carpet for Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito, who arrived last week for a five-day official visit to the country, marking the 60th anniversary of Japan-Malaysia diplomatic ties.

The visit is Naruhito’s first to Malaysia since his investiture as the crown prince of Japan in 1991. He hailed the close ties enjoyed by Japan and Malaysia, and fondly recalled his parents’ (Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko) trip to Malaysia in 1970. At that time, Emperor Akihito was the crown prince.

“While I don’t clearly recollect what my parents told me about their visit to Malaysia, I can say that as a child, I knew Malaysia as a country with a highly respected king.”

Ahead of his visit to Malaysia, Naruhito said at a press conference at his palace that he looked forward to learning from the country’s experience in using its ethnic, religious and cultural diversity as a source of development.

He said: “Malaysia’s success is based on her diversity and tolerance, and the country can be a model for a world faced with conflicts.”

Japan has expressed admiration for the efforts and abilities shown by Malaysian leaders for successfully bringing home nine Malaysians who were stranded in North Korea recently. Such attempts by the Japanese government for the release of their own citizens have been unsuccessful.

Reportedly, there were more than 100 Japanese believed to have been kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

To date, the Japanese government has no confirmation of their whereabouts and wellbeing. Negotiations were said to have taken place hundreds of times, but with no positive outcome.

Naruhito, 57, the oldest son of Akihito, is first in line to the Chrysanthemum throne. In February, he had said he was ready to become emperor upon the expected abdication of his father. A government panel is debating on how to constitutionally allow the 83-year-old Akihito, who has had heart surgery and prostate cancer treatments, to step down as his age and frailty are proving hard for him to fulfil his duties.

The last time an emperor abdicated was in 1817; current law does not allow this action. The Japanese government is considering submitting a special abdication law to parliament so that Naruhito may ascend the throne as early as January 2019.

It is expected that Naruhito would continue in the footsteps of Akihito, who has worked hard to heal the wounds of World War 2 (WW2), waged in the name of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

Naruhito has stressed the importance of remembering Japan’s wartime history “correctly” and “looking back humbly on the past”.

In fact, the Japanese government is trying to revise the post-war United States-drafted pacifist constitution by rewriting Japan’s wartime history with a less apologetic tone. Such history includes taking pride in Japanese traditions and cultures, which, for centuries, revolved around the Emperor.

Currently, Akihito is the only remaining monarch in the world reigning under the title “emperor”. The Imperial House of Japan has existed for 1,300 years and is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. Until the end of WW2, the emperor was regarded as a God. It is widely believed that he, not only represents Japan, but also is the nation itself.

After WW2, the 1947 constitution, which dissolved the empire of Japan, stated: “The emperor is the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.”

As the ceremonial monarch in Japan’s system of constitutional monarchy and head of the Japanese imperial family, he is also the highest authority of the Shinto religion.

The popularity of the royal family peaked in 1989 when a new emperor (Akihito) was crowned. In 1993, the royal marriage of the crown prince (Naruhito) took place.

At this time, according to a poll, 80 per cent of Japanese backed the role of the emperor as a symbol of the nation.

Naruhito was born at Tsugo Palace in Tokyo on Feb 23, 1960. He graduated from Gakushuin University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in History. In July 1983, Naruhito entered a three-month intensive English course before entering Merton College, Oxford University in England.

On June 9, 1993, the wedding of Naruhito to Masako Owada, a diplomat’s daughter, took place. The new addition to the imperial family was a 33-year-old worldly diplomat with an Economics degree from Harvard. Her father was former vice-foreign minister and former ambassador to the United Nations. Masako harboured an ambition of being a career diplomat in the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Despite Naruhito’s respect for his wife’s accomplishments, she was traditionally bound to sacrifice both her career and the right to vote upon marriage.

After eight years of marriage, Masako gave birth to a daughter, Princess Aiko, on Dec 1, 2001. Naruhito broke tradition by being the first crown prince to be present in the delivery room for the birth of his child.

When Naruhito’s father became emperor, it was already established that: “The imperial family is not supposed to seek change themselves.”

They adjust to the state of the country and reflect the values of the Japanese people of their time. This holds true for most current monarchs of the world. And, it is likely that the future emperor Naruhito’s ascent will reflect just that.

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