National

From Meiji to Taisho, Showa and Heisei, how The Japan Times covered previous era changes

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

“Joyfully and with a mingled sense of awe and reverence did the whole Japanese nation observe the great event of the Ceremony of the Imperial Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor,” Japan Times and Mail President Yonejiro Ito wrote in a special edition book published in December 1928 to commemorate the ascension of Emperor Hirohito — posthumously known as Emperor Showa — to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

“No event indeed is regarded as more important in this country than the ascension of an Imperial Descendant to the Throne of a Lineage unbroken for ages eternal.”

On Wednesday, Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne to become Japan’s 126th monarch and the latest in a bloodline said to represent the oldest constitutional monarchy in the world. Just as the lives of past rulers have been preserved in the headlines of the day, so too will Emperor Naruhito be recorded in history as the icon of the Reiwa Era.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito — who was the first person to become emperor under the country’s postwar Constitution, in which the monarchy is defined as a symbol of the people’s unity — is also the first to abdicate the Chrysanthemum Throne in about 200 years.

Emperor Showa, who died in 1989, had presided over Japan for nearly 62 years during a period in which the country was defeated in World War II, occupied after the war and later granted sovereignty once again. His was the longest reign of any emperor in the country’s history.

Before him, Emperor Yoshihito — posthumously known as Emperor Taisho — ascended to the throne in 1912 but, due to illness, struggled to establish his own legacy and escape the shadow cast by his predecessor and father, Emperor Meiji.

“[Emperor Yoshihito] could take small active part in affairs of state while at all times his personality had been overshadowed by the memory of his father,” The Japan Advertiser, which was later absorbed by The Japan Times, wrote in December 1926. “The third of three sons born to Meiji, had been ruler in name, but never in fact.”

On the other hand, Emperor Meiji, who was known as Emperor Mutsuhito while alive, oversaw the end of the Tokugawa shogunate-led government and saw the country shift to imperial rule during the spring of 1869. He was just 14 years old when he ascended to the throne.

“Young as he was he showed a remarkable strength of character and rare sagacity in the management of men and affairs,” The Japan Times wrote in 1912, the day after his death. “This was almost providential for the moment of his ascending the Imperial Throne marked the opening of a new chapter in the history of the nation. It marked the birth of Modern Japan.”