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Editorial : The beginning of Reiwa era in Japan

【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.

明報社評2019.05.01:「平成」見證中日浮沉 「令和」盼守和平願景

日皇明仁退位,30年平成時代告終,揭開德仁天皇令和時代帷幕。

戰後日本和平憲法訂明,日皇作為國家和國民的總體象徵,沒有實權,然而在日本民眾心目中,日皇的地位仍是無可比擬。明仁天皇親民形象深入民心,任內一直以宣揚和平為己任,屢與國內右翼力量唱反調。他在退位前發表的最後一次講話,亦表達了對長子德仁繼位後的期許,希望日本和全世界和平。

看待平成時代,需要從近代日本發展軌迹的縱軸,以及國際形勢變化的橫軸理解。1868年明治維新揭開序幕,標誌日本走上現代化發展之路,1894年中日甲午戰爭和1905年日俄戰爭,日本戰勝成為了亞洲一哥。之後的大正時代,日本繼續追求富國強兵軍事擴張,同時亦在國內邁出民主化腳步,然而軍國主義抬頭,最終扼殺了日本稚嫩的民主。昭和時代,日本先後兩次試圖國際稱霸,首次是1930年代起透過武力侵略,企圖建立「大東亞共榮圈」,結果以美國投下原子彈告終;第二次則是戰後浴火重生,挾着迅速壯大的經濟實力,為「日本第一」力拼,惟最終敵不過美國。

日本著名小說家司馬遼太郎的《坂上之雲》,描寫明治時期年輕人奮發圖強,希望日本能夠成為與歐美列強匹敵的故事。這一精神由明治一直貫徹到昭和時代晚期,然而隨着1990年代初泡沫經濟爆破,平成時代的日本,社會經濟以至精神面貌出現根本變化,《坂上之雲》精神不復再,取而代之是低欲望社會。日本經濟低迷接近30年,通縮壓力揮之不去,政黨輪替無力回天,「安倍經濟學」雷聲大雨點小。年輕一代看不到機會,失去目標和希望,很多人選擇過「佛系」生活,但求「小確幸」,莫說結婚生子,連買車置業也有很多顧慮。

從國際格局而言,平成時代一邊見證了日本走下坡,同時亦見證了中國崛起,《坂上之雲》的精神離開了日本,來到了中國。。中日是亞洲兩大強國,互爭雄長是正常現象,最重要是互相尊重,維持既競爭亦合作的良性關係,兩國對此均有責任。令和時代,日中如何理順關係,對兩國領導人都是一大考驗。

■Glossary

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

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