We attended a birthday party of sorts last night, except there was no cake. Ever since Japan stationed a Consulate General in Denver, there has been an annual gathering of invited guests to mark the birthday of Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan.
Royal birthdays are probably celebrated in the few countries that still have a monarch. For instance, the Queen of England’s birthday is April 21 and it’s officially celebrated on the third Saturday of June. But Japan is the only country in the world that has an Emperor as its titular head of state.
The role of Emperor is hugely important in Japan — so much so that after World War II, when many wanted to prosecute then-emperor Hirohito, the Allied Occupation Forces led by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, who’s still fondly remembered by many Japanese as the “Gaijin (Foreigner) Emperor,” decided to allow Hirohito to remain in power even though the country was drafting a new, democratic constitution. Abolishing the royal structure and prosecuting Hirohito would have been too deep a disruption of Japanese society at a time when they needed to unite and pull the country out of the postwar ruins.
So the Emperor became a symbolic head of state, with no actual ruling power. That’s in the hands of the Diet, or parliament, and the prime minister.
Hirohito died in 1989, and Akihito, his son, succeeded to the throne the same year. Japan’s Imperial Household is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world, with a straight line drawn from Emperor Jimmu in 660 AD to Akihito today. Continue reading