National

Emperor Naruhito uses first New Year's address to express hopes for disaster-free year

Kyodo

In his New Year’s address released Wednesday, Emperor Naruhito said he hopes that 2020 will be a happy year free of any major disasters. The message was released as he begins his first full year as the symbol of state after ascending the chrysanthemum throne last year.

The 59-year-old emperor expressed his relief at completing a series of ceremonies accompanying his enthronement on May 1, the day after his father, former Emperor Akihito, abdicated as the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.

“Meeting with many people from home and abroad and being given warm blessings on many occasions, the past year has been deeply moving for both the empress (Masako) and me,” he said in the statement.

He also referred to powerful typhoons and torrential rain last year and said his “heart aches as many precious lives were lost” in them. “I pray that there will be no disaster this year,” he added.

The emperor’s New Year message is the first since the practice was halted under his father’s reign in 2017 in an effort to reduce the workload of the 86-year-old, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

But the emperor and empress did not release any poems in the New Year, as the previous emperor and empress customarily did , as they could not prepare them in time in a year full of enthronement-linked events, the agency said.

The couple completed all enthronement ceremonies in December.

Among key ceremonies they took part in were November’s Daijosai, the Shinto-style thanksgiving ritual, and the Sokuirei Seiden no Gi ceremony for proclaiming the enthronement before international guests in October.

His enthronement marked the start of a new imperial era called Reiwa, meaning beautiful harmony, and the end of Heisei, meaning achieving peace, under his father’s reign, which spanned 30 years.

In modern-day Japan, such imperial era names, or gengo, are widely used for calendars, on coins and on all official documents.

This year, the emperor is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visits Japan in the spring as a state guest and in July he will formally announce the opening of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The emperor and empress are also expected to make their first trip overseas under their new status, and they are scheduled to travel to Shimane Prefecture in May, Miyagi Prefecture in September and Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in October to attend domestic events.

Empress Masako, 56, who has been struggling with adjustment disorder since 2003, has shown signs of improvement, completing all duties scheduled for last year.

After Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement, the Japanese imperial family is now only left with three male heirs — the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, 54, his son, Prince Hisahito, 13, and Prince Hitachi, 84, the emperor’s uncle.

The emperor and empress’s 18-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, who will graduate from high school this spring, is not an heir as the 1947 Imperial House Law limits heirs to men in the paternal line.

To address the shrinking of the imperial family, the government is scheduled to start full-fledged talks on how to achieve a stable imperial succession after the crown prince formally announces himself to be first in line to the throne in April.