New Emperor, New Era : Time overseas shaped global perspective
TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - This is the fourth installment in the series “New Emperor, New Era.” Back in March 2013, two princes were walking along the streets of New York, chatting amicably. Today, they are the Emperor and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
This is the fourth installment in the series “New Emperor, New Era.”
Back in March 2013, two princes were walking along the streets of New York, chatting amicably. Today, they are the Emperor and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.
The Emperor was then serving as honorary president of the U.N. Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.
King Willem-Alexander, who is seven years his junior, was the advisory board’s chairman. They were both attending an international conference, and the Emperor had been scheduled to travel from a lunch venue to the U.N. headquarters by car. However, when invited to walk together by King Willem-Alexander, he readily took up the offer.
An attendant who observed the occasion — something that would normally never happen — was impressed by the close friendship the two had formed.
According to officials, the Emperor and King Willem-Alexander spoke directly in New York about the Emperor’s invitation to the king’s coronation ceremony, which was due to take place the following month.
When the Emperor mentioned that the Empress’ health status has ups and downs, Willem-Alexander suggested that they need “to attend only the main event of the ceremony — the coronation.” His consideration helped to bring about the Empress’ first official overseas visit in 10 years.
Relationships like the one between the Emperor and the King are of an entirely different character from those that existed in the generation of his father, the Emperor Emeritus, which were still affected by the scars of World War II.
After the end of the war, when the Emperor Emeritus visited countries that Japan had fought on behalf of Emperor Showa, he was sometimes exposed to intense anti-Japanese sentiment. After his ascension to the throne, the Emperor Emeritus prayed for the spirits of the war dead during visits to Britain and the Netherlands. He also showed consideration for people who had suffered during the war in remarks at welcome banquets.
The Emperor is the first on the throne to have studied abroad. He studied at the University of Oxford for two years starting in 1983, when he was 23.
During vacations, he traveled across Britain as well as to countries such as Spain and Norway, interacting with members of royal families along the way. He met Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, then 17, during this time.
Looking back on his days as an international student in his book, the Emperor wrote: “The warm hospitality I enjoyed from royal families stems from the friendships my parents built over many years.”
In recent years, many members of European royal families have succeeded to the throne due to abdication. The enthronements of King Willem-Alexander in April 2013, Belgium’s King Philippe in July of the same year, and Spain’s King Felipe VI in June 2014 have resulted in kings of the same generation as the Emperor.
During the Emperor’s visit to Spain in 2008, Felipe, who like the Emperor was crown prince at the time, suddenly invited the Emperor to drinks at his home.
These kinds of natural interactions between the Emperor and kings are described by a senior official in the Foreign Ministry as “something that politicians or diplomats, who have fixed terms in office, cannot possibly manage to achieve.
These interactions are extremely meaningful in terms of building friendship and goodwill.”
While living in Britain as an overseas student, the Emperor honed his English language skills and observed British attitudes. He came to understand differences in history, culture and ways of thinking through firsthand experience.
He looks back on this time as “a valuable opportunity to reexamine Japan from the outside.”
The Emperor has so far visited 48 countries and made the acquaintance of many heads of state.
On a visit to Germany in June 2011, the Emperor met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in English without the aid of an interpreter. He thanked her for the assistance Japan received from Germany in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake. During Merkel’s visit to Japan in February 2019, the Emperor met with the chancellor at his residence and heard firsthand from her about the recent state of affairs in Germany.
The Emperor’s spontaneous and casual interactions are not limited to heads of state and VIPs. While walking the streets during a visit to Denmark, some locals who were drinking beer invited the Emperor to join them. He responded in English, with a touch of humor, that he would take them up on their offer next time.
During his 2007 visit to Mongolia, the Emperor formed deeper relationships through his hobby of music as well as horseback riding, which he is experienced in. He traveled the Mongolian grasslands on horseback. At a welcome concert given by a local music group, he ended up joining the musicians and showing off his viola skills.
“My sincere hope is for greater development as we seek world peace hand-in-hand with other countries,” the Emperor said at a public greeting on May 4. Through the relationships he has built with other monarchs and the international outlook he has polished, the Emperor will no doubt help to nurture friendship and goodwill with other countries.