National

War, disaster survivors sympathetic to Emperor's intent to abdicate

Kyodo

Survivors of disasters in Japan and World War II battles expressed acceptance of Emperor Akihito’s readiness to abdicate, in what would be a major postwar change in the Imperial system.

While the issue of a reigning emperor relinquishing the throne remains politically sensitive, elderly people in Japan showed empathy Monday for the plight of the 82-year-old Emperor.

Kazuhiro Toda, 79, said an Imperial visit in 2001 to Kobe — devastated by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake — left him “encouraged” by the Emperor’s words.

“I would like (the Emperor) to retire while he is in good shape and have him relax and take time to rest,” said Toda, who runs a liquor shop in Nagata Ward, Kobe.

Shinji Nakao, the 82-year-old head of a local association for patients at a Hansen’s disease (leprosy) sanatorium in Okayama Prefecture, said the Emperor “must have felt relieved he fulfilled his duty of visiting the battlegrounds at home and abroad. It is fine to have a system for abdication.”

The Emperor visited the facility in 2005.

Despite his age, the Emperor has continued to visit disaster-stricken areas in Japan and former World War II battlegrounds at home and overseas to pay his respects to the war dead.

Masako Onishi, an 84-year-old resident of Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, who lost 13 relatives in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, was touched by the down-to-earth message issued by the Emperor on Monday in his rare, videotaped address.

“Being of the same generation, I can understand his worry that his physical strength is declining,” Onishi said.

Mikako Sazaki, 84, said she felt comforted when she met the Emperor in Miyagi Prefecture, where she now lives, and conveyed her wartime experience in Palau.

“I would want (him) to be there for as many people as possible, but my wish would mean a heavy burden (for the Emperor),” Sazaki said.

As part of his official duties, the Emperor has traveled with the Empress, who is 81, to major battlefields overseas — Saipan in 2005, Palau in 2015 and the Philippines in January.

In March, the Emperor and Empress visited Miharu, a town in Fukushima Prefecture. Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures were devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck in March 2011, in turn triggering the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Kazuo Ishii, a 60-year-old restaurant operator who had to evacuate due to the nuclear catastrophe, said he was encouraged by the Emperor when he said he wanted to reopen his restaurant in its previous location.

“Even if (the Emperor) is far away, I hope Fukushima will always be in his thoughts,” Ishii said.

Katsuji Katagiri, the 65-year-old head of an evacuation center in Sendai, expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “however far, it is enough that the Emperor would care deeply about us.”

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