- Japan will get a new emperor on May 1, 2019.
- Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, will succeed his father, Akihito, who is abdicating due to health concerns.
- Naruhito is a keen historian, water transportation researcher, and environmental activist . He also spent two years studying at Oxford University, and wrote a memoir about it.
- He and his wife, Masako, have been beset with illness and pressures to produce a male heir.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Japan is gearing up to welcome a new emperor after its current one, Akihito, said he wanted to step down – the country’s first abdication in some 200 years.
Akihito’s son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will succeed his father on the throne on Wednesday, May 1.
The 59-year-old, who was educated in Tokyo and Oxford, is a keen historian, water transportation researcher, and memoirist. He has spoken out on environmental issues for decades.
He and his wife, Masako, have also openly discussed their struggles with mental health and the pressure to produce a male heir – providing the traditionally conservative Japanese society a rare, frank glimpse into their lives.
Scroll down to learn more about Naruhito and his family, and what his reign could look like.
This is Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito, the man who will become the country’s next emperor on May 1.
Naruhito will become the country’s 126th emperor.
He was born in Tokyo in February 1960 as the eldest son to then-Crown Prince (now Emperor) Akihito and his wife Michiko — making him the natural heir to the world’s oldest monarchy. Here are Naruhito’s parents on their wedding day.
Akihito, who has been emperor since 1989, announced his plan to step down in December 2017. It was Japan’s first abdication in 200 years.
Akihito, 85, has undergone heart surgery and been diagnosed with prostate cancer in the past.
He hinted of his wish to abdicate in a 2016 speech, saying: “When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now.”
He added that if an emperor died on the throne, Japanese society could come “to a standstill.”
Earlier this month Akihito performed a sacred ritual to confirm his resignation to the Shinto gods and put the succession process into motion.
Japan’s Shinto religion emphasises rituals and rites as a means to communicate with spiritual beings.
The sacred ritual involved the country’s imperial treasures: a sword, a jewel, and a mirror.
Naruhito, the crown prince, grew up in Tokyo and received a bachelor’s degree in History at the city’s private Gakushuin University aged 22.
A year later he moved, by himself, to the UK to enroll in a postgraduate course at Oxford University’s Merton College, where he studied the history of transportation in the River Thames for two years.
This was the first time anyone in the direct line of succession to Japan’s throne studied outside the country, The Japan Times reported.
Merton College, Oxford
He recorded his time in Oxford assiduously, which culminated in his 1993 memoir “The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford.”
The book details his daily life in Oxford, travels around the UK and Europe, and anecdotes about a crown prince trying to fit into student life. Naruhito called this period the “happiest time” of his life, The Japan Times reported.
Naruhito almost flooded his student dorm while doing laundry for the first time in his life, The Japan Times reported the book as saying.
According to Nippon.com, Naruhito also recalled telling his Oxford friends about the similarities between the Japanese words for “Your Highness” (“denka”) and the word for “electric light” (“denki”) – resulting in his friends calling him an electric light instead of your highness.
Hugh Cortazzi, the former British ambassador to Japan who translated the book from Japanese to English, told The Japan Times the memoir “reveals the Crown Prince’s charm, modesty, sense of humour and conscientious dedication to his studies and will enhance his international image.”
He later returned to Tokyo, eventually getting another Master’s degree from Gakushuin University. There he met Masako Owada, an Oxford- and Harvard-educated aspiring diplomat, reportedly at a tea party for a Spanish princess in 1986.
Naruhito pursued Masako relentlessly, despite her reportedly refusing his marriage proposal twice because she didn’t want to jeopardize her diplomatic career. She finally accepted in December 1992, and they married in 1993.
According to People magazine, shortly after she accepted Naruhito’s third proposal, the crown prince said: “You might have fears and worries about joining the Imperial household. But I will protect you for my entire life.”
Their marriage hit some lows. In 1999 Masako — who had been facing pressure to produce a male heir to the Japanese throne — suffered a miscarriage. The royal couple blamed the media frenzy around her pregnancy.
TV companies hired helicopters to follow Masako’s car when she travelled to the hospital for checkups, The Telegraph reported.
Naruhito called the relentless coverage “truly deplorable,” The Telegraph reported, and Masako said a year later: “To be frank, it is a fact that the overheated coverage in the media from such an early period disturbed me.”
Masako started withdrawing from public life shortly after the miscarriage. Months later she announced that she suffered from stress-induced depression, with royal family officials saying that it was to do with the trauma of the miscarriage.
But in 2001, Masako became pregnant again and gave birth to a girl, Aiko, later that year. As Japanese law forbids girls to inherit the throne, there was still pressure on Naruhito and Masako to produce a male heir.
The Japanese government tried to ease some of the pressure by trying to change the laws on male primogeniture. In January 2006, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he would submit a bill to allow females to inherit the Japanese throne later that year.
Council on Foreign Relations
However, later that month, Naruhito’s younger brother, Fumihito, announced that he and his wife Kiko were pregnant with a son, Hisahito — easing pressure from the Japanese government to change the laws and on Masako to have a son.
After Akihito’s abdication, Hisahito will become second in line to the throne.
Aiko, at this point, is not eligible to ascend the throne.
Council on Foreign Relations
Princess Aiko, now 17, has followed in her parents’ footsteps in pursuing her education overseas. Though she attends school in Tokyo, she went to summer school at England’s prestigious Eton College by herself in 2018.
She also plays the cello and competes in basketball games at school, The Associated Press reported, citing Japan’s Imperial Household Agency.
Naruhito will become Emperor on May 1, though his official enthronement ceremony won’t be until October 22.
Leaders from 195 countries will be invited to join the four-day celebration, which will include a ceremony and a banquet,Japan’s NHK broadcaster said.
The Japanese government gave everyone a one-off holiday of ten days, from April 27 to May 6, to celebrate Naruhito’s ascension to Emperor. A lot of citizens are worried about having extra chores, childcare, and stock market turmoil during that time.
As emperor, Naruhito will not have any political powers. He will instead be responsible for ceremonial duties, such as greeting state leaders. Here, his parents meets US President Donald Trump in March 2018.
As it is, Naruhito has already met a handful of foreign dignitaries already. Here he is with his parents meeting former US President and First Lady Ronald and Nancy Reagan in 1989…
… at a banquet with Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, in Tokyo in 1991 …
… with then-President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton in Tokyo in 1993 …
… with Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, in Kyoto in 1997 …
… and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tokyo this February.
Naruhito has appeared to show some of his political and social views in the past. He has long spoken out about environmental issues, particularly on the global access to clean water — a result undoubtedly influenced by his studies.
Kenzo Hiroki, a former land ministry official who knew Naruhito through their work, told the Asahi Shimbun the crown prince’s interest in clean water issues came after he saw women and children line up to fill their pots with water during a visit to Pokhara, Nepal, in 1987.
“I imagine that he then began to think about poverty, education, environmental and other global issues stemming from problems relating to water,” Hiroki told the Japanese newspaper.
Naruhito and Masako have also made yearly visits to the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
At least 15,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, according to Japan’s National Police Agency.
The Japan Times
Emperors should “always be close to the people in their thoughts, and share their joys and sorrows,” Naruhito said in 2017.
The Japan Times
Masako, who will become Empress, said in a surprisingly frank statement that she felt “insecure” about her upcoming role, but that she wants to “devote myself to the happiness of the people.”
“Even though I feel insecure about how helpful I will be when I think about the days ahead, I want to devote myself to the happiness of the people so I will make an effort to that end,” she said in a statement last December, cited by Agence France-Presse.
“I am delighted at the fact that I can perform more duties than before as I have tried to improve my physical condition,” she added, referring to her illness.
But her doctors warned that she remains vulnerable to fatigue, especially after large ceremonies, AFP reported.
In Japan, each new reign comes with a new name. Naruhito’s era will be called “Reiwa” (令和), which can be roughly translated to “pursuing harmony.”
The name of the new era signifies the rebirth of culture as people “beautifully care about each other,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier in April.
Akihito’s era is called “Heisei” (平成), which roughly translates to “peace everywhere.”
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