Futurity

How Japan’s royal family changes with the times

As Japan's royal family deals with a new emperor taking the throne, an expert looks at how the times have shaped the family—and vice versa.
Emperor Naruhito and the Japanese royal family

Japan’s royal family has bound generations together through strong traditions that continue to shape the country’s culture, infrastructure, and public policy, argues Alice Y. Tseng.

Tseng, chair of the department of history of art & architecture and associate professor of Japanese art and architecture at Boston University, has done extensive research on Japanese art and architecture, revealing a cohesive story of the imperial family’s influence through time.

Her book Modern Kyoto: Building for Ceremony and Commemoration, 1868–1940 (University of Hawai’i Press, 2018) explores the architectural and urban changes that happened in Kyoto after Japan’s imperial family moved to Tokyo in 1868. Tseng reveals how the past still influences the Japanese imperial family as the new emperor and empress start their reign.

Today, the Japanese imperial family—the oldest royal line in the world—is in the midst of a historic transition of reign.

On April 30, 2019, former Emperor Akihito, the 125th monarch to rule in the line of Japan’s imperial family, willingly abdicated the Japanese throne. It was an extremely rare move for a member of the imperial family (the likes of which has not happened since 1817, when Emperor Kokaku became the first emperor in several hundred years’ time to rule past the age of 40, after which he decided to hand over the throne to his much younger and healthier son). Likewise, upon the recent abdication of Akihito, who is currently 85 years old, the throne was passed to his son and successor, Naruhito.

For Akihito to be able to give up the throne, which he wanted to do for age- and health-related reasons (not unlike his ancestor Kokaku), Akihito went through a lengthy process to persuade Japanese cabinet members to change an existing law that prevented him from abdicating. Since ascending the throne on May 1, 2019, Emperor Naruhito, along with his wife, Empress Masako, are now preparing for October of this year, when the formal enthronement ceremony will take place.

Here, Tseng explains the historical influence of Japan’s imperial family and how tradition is shaping what we will see surrounding the enthronement of Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, and empress, Masako.

The post How Japan’s royal family changes with the times appeared first on Futurity.

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