【明報專訊】JAPANESE EMPEROR Akihito has abdicated, marking the end of his thirty-year Heisei reign and unveiling the Reiwa era of Emperor Naruhito.
Japan's pacifist constitution written after the Second World War states that the Japanese emperor is the symbol of the country and its people collectively and holds no real power. To the Japanese people, the emperor has an unparalleled status. Emperor Akihito is held in deep regard as an amiable man, who has made the spread of peace his responsibility. He has repeatedly been at variance with the right wing in his country. In his last speech, delivered prior to his abdication, he expressed his expectations of Naruhito, his eldest son, after he acceded to the throne, as well his hope of peace in Japan and on earth.
It is necessary to view the Heisei era from two perspectives: the trajectory of modern Japan's development, and the changes in the international situation. The year 1868 marked the beginning of the Meiji Reform and Japan's modernisation. The victories in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 made Japan the greatest power in Asia. In the Taisho era that followed, Japan continued the pursuit of a mix of prosperity and military expansion, at the same time making first steps towards democratisation domestically. But the rise of militarism ultimately snuffed out Japan's fledgling democracy. The Showa era saw Japan's two attempts at global hegemony. The first was its military aggression in the 1930s with the aim of creating the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. That ambition ended with the US's use of atomic bombs. The second attempt was made after the war. Having undergone a rebirth, Japan leveraged its rapidly growing economic power to strive for "Japan as number one", ultimately losing to the US.
The endeavour of young people in the Meiji era to lift Japan into the front rank of world powers among European countries and the US is depicted in Clouds Above the Hill, a work by the famous Japanese novelist Ryotaro Shiba. Such a spirit carried on until the late Showa era. Following the burst of economic bubbles in the 1990s, Japan in the Heisei era experienced fundamental changes in its society, economy and zeitgeist. The spirit depicted in Clouds Above the Hill was gone, and in its stead came a society characterised by a lack of ambition. Japan's economic downturn has dragged on for nearly 30 years, and the country is under perpetual pressure of deflation. The alternation of political parties has failed to turn things around, and "Abenomics" has been all talk and little wool. The younger generation sees few opportunities and has lost a sense of purpose and hope. Many people have chosen to live tranquil lives and all they hope for is little, down-to-earth happiness. They have misgivings about buying cars and property, let alone getting married and having children.
From the perspective of the international situation, the Heisei era saw the decline of Japan and the rise of China. The spirit of Clouds Above the Hill left Japan for China. Japan and China are two great powers in Asia. It is normal for them to compete. What is important is mutual respect. It is both countries' responsibility to maintain a competitive yet cooperative relationship. How the countries will sort out their relationship in the Reiwa era will put their leaders to the test.
accede to : to achieve a high position, especially to become king or queen
zeitgeist : the general mood or quality of a particular period of history, as shown by the ideas, beliefs, etc. common at the time
mutual : used to describe feelings that two or more people have for each other equally, or actions that affect two or more people equally