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Shinzo Abe aims to fulfil unrealised dreams

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Shinzo Abe aims to fulfil unrealised dreams

The Prime Minister’s dream to create a ‘beautiful Japan’ could be near realisation if his policies are implemented and executed as planned, says Rajaram Panda

Though it is difficult to predict the destiny of a country for the next five years or so, it could be possible to foresee the trends of a country and project a possible course that it is traversing and the likely outcome that its policies could unfold for itself and for the world. In this narrative, Japan is positioned in a critical phase where the trends set by its political leaders could put the nation’s destiny at the world’s centrestage. One could foresee the likely place of Japan based on the policy outlook of the current Prime Minister. Shinzo Abe’s aim to create a “beautiful Japan” could be near realisation if his stated policies are implemented as planned.

A few examples of some recent developments would suffice if the above projections could come true or near realisation. Firstly, in the economic domain, the political stability secured by Abe could help in smooth implementation of his “Abenomics” and the country’s economy could be revitalised. Secondly, in the defence/security domain, the threat lurking from the neighbouring North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, coupled with China’s show of belligerence on territorial issues present the Abe Government with critical choices in order to cope with the new situation in which defence preparedness and bolstering ties with the United States are key elements. In order to achieve this objective, removing the existing constraint in the form of Article 9 of the Constitution is paramount. The so-called peace clause in the Constitution does not match well with the present-day realities of the region and the world. Preparedness to face the world on its own is every country’s right and prerogative, which is what Abe has been vigorously striving for. Even if the existing constraints do not allow Abe to achieve what he wants, at least he is now in a position to reinterpret the constraining clauses to achieve his ultimate objective without actually tampering with the Article.

Thirdly, the global profile of the country is projected to be raised in view of important events that are lined up for the next three years. As Japan bids adieu to 2017, it is tempting to examine how it prepares for some important events in the run-up to the Olympics in 2020.

The biggest event in 2019 will be the formal stepping down from the throne of the current Emperor Akihito on April 30, and the succession to the imperial throne by the current Crown Prince Naruhito. In the same year, Japan will remain busy in hosting two international events — G-20 Summit and the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) — and conducting the unified local elections in April and Upper House elections in July.

Though this essay will mainly focus on and analyse the abdication and imperial succession and related issues, a brief narration of the other important events could be of equal interest to understand how Japan prepares to organise these important events.

In all three events — imperial succession, G-20, and TICAD — Japan will welcome a large number of foreign dignitaries and hosting them will be a gigantic task. For the G-20 summit, apart from the leaders of the 20 participating countries and regions, other invited heads of state and chiefs of international organisations will also attend. Japan is aware that in the 2017 G-20 Summit held in Hamburg, Germany, representatives from seven countries and eight international organisations also attended.

Japan’s outreach to the African continent can be seen from a larger perspective of neutralising China’s increasing footprint in the same continent. In fact, India too is reinvigorating its ties with the African nations in recent times. For India and Japan, both being aspiring nations to be permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, it is crucial to have the support of the 54 nations of Africa. India and Japan have also launched the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor as a counter to China’s One-Belt One Road initiative. So, from Japan’s perspective, TICAD is extremely important. Under Abe’s initiative, a large number of students from Africa are being invited to Japan for studies in various disciplines. When TICAD was launched in 1993, only five leaders attended the first summit, but in the 2013 TICAD summit held in Yokohama, 39 leaders from 51 participating countries attended.

This means that for an event so big in which a large number of foreign dignitaries are going to participate, the task before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shall be huge in making preparations, and human resource could be a key factor to make the events successful. Issues such as preparatory works, arranging meeting dates with foreign Governments, confirming accommodation, transport and security are too important to be overlooked. Even the local Governments and private sector will have important supporting roles.

However, all these pale into insignificance when the issue of the Emperor’s abdication is to be handled as there are several issues related to this. It may be recalled that the Imperial Household Council decided on December 1, 2017, that 2019 (Heisei 31) would be the first year of the new imperial era. Like the G-20 and TICAD summits, a large number of foreign dignitaries are expected to attend the imperial succession to the throne.                      

Indeed, 2019 shall be “an unbelievable year”, says Kouji Sugimoto of Sankei Shimbun. Crown Prince Haruhito, 57, will ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019, after the current Emperor officially steps down. The Cabinet passed an Ordinance that set the special measures law on the abdication to take effect on the same date. When Emperor Akihito ascended the throne in November 1990, the number of overseas guests came from 158 countries, including seven royals, 46 Presidents, and 11 Prime Ministers to attend the enthronement ceremony. The occasion was used to hold a number of bilateral summits, which included those with Vice-Presidents and Foreign Ministers from 57 countries of various regions. 

So, when the crown prince formally ascends the throne, a new era will begin that day, putting an end to the Heisei era after 30 years and three months. It will be the first abdication in about 200 years, since Emperor Kokaku stepped down in 1817 during the Edo period. The current Emperor will be referred to as joko heika after he abdicates.

The name of the new era is yet to be chosen, and when announced, shall be the 248th in Japan. The Government intends to announce the new name later in 2018, so that sufficient time is available for systems to make adjustments and the naming of the new era shall be on the same procedure as was the case when Hesei era was announced in 1989. The abdication ceremony shall be the first time such an event will take place under the current Constitution, which designates the Emperor as a symbol of the state. 

Some new issues are likely to be worked out soon. Whether May 1, that will start a new era, shall be declared a national holiday or a day off is yet to be known. It is also not known if the current practice of declaring the reigning Emperor’s birthday, December 23, as a national holiday shall continue.

The special measures law also stipulated that the Empress will be referred to as jokogo heika, and Prince Akishino will be referred to as koshi denka, becoming the first in line to the throne. Under the new law, the Imperial Household Agency shall handle the affairs of the joko and koshi. In view of the less number of male members in the line of succession, there is a debate whether female members will be made eligible to ascend the throne, but there is no consensus so far. The Government is expected to initiate discussion if female Imperial branches be allowed to retain Imperial status even after marrying commoners and be eligible to succeed to the throne. It will be interesting to see how a retired emperor and new emperor co-exist after the abdication.

At present, the Imperial Household consists of the Emperor and 18 other members. After the current Emperor Akihito abdicates, there shall be only three members of the Imperial family who shall be in line to the throne. The 11-year-old Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, is the only one in the younger generation. There is an opinion that creation of Imperial Family branches headed by female members could be worth considering in view of the shrinking number in the Imperial family members.

So, as Abe celebrates five years in office, he shall have a sense of fulfilment having received endorsement by people on many of his objectives, including forging a robust partnership with India.

The writer is ICCR India Chair Visiting Professor at Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Reitaku University, Japan. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect either that of the ICCR or the Government of India. E-mail:




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