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New Emperor Naruhito's expressions of respect for Constitution differ from father's

Emperor Naruhito gives a speech during the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony in the "Matsu no Ma" room at the Imperial Palace, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on May 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- New Emperor Naruhito attended the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony at the Imperial Palace here on the morning of May 1, where he gave his first address to the nation as Japan's reigning monarch. As when former Emperor Akihito, now Emperor Emeritus, acceded to throne, Emperor Naruhito referred to the Constitution that stipulates the emperor's role.

"I have hereby succeeded to the Throne pursuant to the Constitution of Japan and the Special Measures Law on the Imperial House Law. When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity," the official English language translation of Emperor Naruhito's speech reads.

The beginning of the statement was significantly different from what Emperor Akihito read out at the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony on Jan. 9, 1989, upon the demise of his father Emperor Hirohito (posthumously known as Emperor Showa). In that statement, then Emperor Akihito began by expressing his profound sorrow and grief over his father's death.

The difference in the two addresses apparently stems from the nature of the Imperial successions, with the latest one following Emperor Akihito's abdication.

The new Emperor Naruhito referred in his speech to the paths Emperor Emeritus Akihito had taken and how he pursued how the emperor, as the symbol of the state, should be, and how he proactively engaged with the public alongside Empress Emerita Michiko.

"I would like to express my heartfelt respect and appreciation of the comportment shown by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan," Emperor Naruhito said. Meanwhile, former Emperor Akihito stated in his 1989 speech that he was giving deep thought to the virtue bequeathed by his late father Emperor Showa.

Both Emperor Naruhito and Emperor Emeritus Akihito mentioned the Constitution in their speeches related to their enthronement, but the words and phrases used were different.

Then Emperor Akihito pledged that he would abide by the Constitution together with the public and fulfill his duties in accordance with the supreme law, and that he wished for the further rise of the country's fortunes, world peace and the advancement of human welfare. Meanwhile, Emperor Naruhito stated, "I also swear that I will act according to the Constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them. I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world."

Emperor Naruhito's use of the term "symbol," which his father did not use in his enthronement address, may suggest that he has made the role of the emperor even clearer and more concrete.

Author Masayasu Hosaka pointed out that the new Emperor did not use the term "the Constitution of Japan" in the Japanese version of his speech, only "the Constitution." Nor does the address declare he would "abide by" the supreme law.

"Emperor (Akihito) of the Heisei era regarded the Constitution of Japan as something unshakable," Hosaka said, adding that the new Emperor may be thinking about the possibility of a new constitution with the current of the times. "They may have different thoughts on the Constitution," he said.

Nevertheless, the new Emperor had stated in a February 2014 press conference that he was in a position to observe the Constitution of Japan. One former aide to Emperor Naruhito, however, said, "I believe the new Emperor still thinks the same way, with just the expression becoming milder."

The new Emperor's address also included such phrases as "I will ... bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors" and "devote myself to self-improvement," which he had repeatedly used as crown prince. "Those may be key words indicating his unshakable beliefs," Hosaka said.

At a news conference this past February, then Crown Prince Naruhito vowed to fulfill his duties as the symbol of the state while staying close to the public. An individual close to the situation said, "I thought that his latest speech was an extension of thoughts he has held thus far."

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, Nao Yamada and Tomofumi Inagaki, City News Department)

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