Emperor Akihito began the new year with a statement that pointedly referred to two major controversies: war memory and nuclear energy. His thoughts on these demonstrate why he is so admired by the public and underscore the crucial role the 81-year-old monarch plays in contemporary Japan.

Since his reign began in 1989, the Emperor has weighed in on sensitive issues numerous times and in doing so has repeatedly repudiated the agenda of right-wing nationalists. Of course his words are carefully vetted and are sufficiently ambiguous to avoid an explicit political stand, but in the context of his remarks and gestures over the years, his choice of topics represent a powerful message to all but the most obtuse.

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