Emperor Akihito, who is to abdicate in April 2019, turns 85 on Dec. 23 -- his last birthday as emperor. Tatsuhiro Oshiro, a prestigious Akutagawa Prize-winning novelist, has interacted with the Emperor for more than 40 years to talk about Okinawa's literature, culture and history.
The following are excerpts of an interview with Oshiro.
Q: You have interacted with the Emperor since he visited Okinawa Prefecture in 1975 for the first time as crown prince, haven't you?
A: I was invited to a room at a hotel where His Majesty was staying and talked with the Emperor who was to attend Expo '75 in the prefecture. At the time, I was involved in the management of the Okinawa pavilion to introduce maritime culture as I was serving as head of the prefectural government's division managing historical documents.
Q: What's your impression of the Emperor?
A: I felt that he was well versed in Okinawa affairs. He said, "In the 15th century, it was the reign of King Sho Shin, wasn't it?" In such a way, the name of a Ryukyu king smoothly comes out of his mouth. In an address at the opening ceremony of the expo, His Majesty mentioned "Niraikanai" (a fairy land across the ocean).
Q: Weren't there some prefectural residents who didn't welcome him against the backdrop of the Battle of Okinawa, the only ground battle in Japan toward the end of World War II?
A: It's true that there were many people negative about the then crown prince's visit. However, I wanted to convey the history of Okinawa to people on mainland Japan and in the world as only a few years had passed since the reversion of Okinawa to Japan's sovereignty (from U.S. occupation). His Majesty heard of my feelings through someone, and offered to meet me. I think he understood my passion more than anyone else did.
Q: Your interactions have still continued, haven't they?
A: His Majesty has strong enthusiasm about learning about Okinawa. He has asked me to take friends who can talk about history with him during our meetings. I repeatedly talk with the Emperor, historians and literary figures. We have enjoyable chats and often talk about Ryuka (traditional Okinawan poetry) and Kumiodori (traditional Okinawan dances). While purely enjoying Okinawa's culture, I think he can't forget Okinawa's history of war.
Q: Why do you think so?
A: Many Ryuka poems that His Majesty composed are relating to war. They include one he composed about a cenotaph for the war dead in Mabuni while thinking about those who died in the war. His Ryuka poems show his profound knowledge of the Okinawa dialect and classical Ryuka, and his determination never to forget Okinawa's history of war.
Q: How do you think about his feelings toward Okinawa?
A: War destroys people's lives, nature and traditional culture. His Majesty has accepted such a shock and respected Okinawa's unique culture. His stance remains unchanged even though time has passed. He is a sympathizer toward Okinawa.
Emperor Akihito has visited Okinawa 11 times since he was crown prince. Each time, he offered a prayer at the National War Dead Peace Mausoleum and other locations, and interacted with members of the bereaved families of the war dead.
In addition to regular events, the Emperor visited Okinawa on several occasions at his own will. During these visits, he went to the Cornerstone of Peace at the Peace Memorial Park, the National Threatre Okinawa and the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum that conveys the wartime tragedy of the Tsushima-maru ship that was sunk by U.S. forces while carrying schoolchildren evacuating from the southernmost prefecture.
Emperor Showa, the late father of Emperor Akihito, is believed to have desired to visit Okinawa but his trip was never realized. When Emperor Akihito visited Okinawa in 1975 as crown prince, an activist hurled a Molotov cocktail toward him.
(Japanese original interview by Nao Yamada, City News Department)
This is part of a series.