Japan's Emperor Akihito waves to well-wishers gathered outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (AP)

Japan's Emperor Akihito waves to well-wishers gathered outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. (AP)

Japanese people cheer for Emperor Akihito and his family members on the emperor's 85th birthday. (AP)

Japanese people cheer for Emperor Akihito and his family members on the emperor's 85th birthday. (AP)

Crown Prince Akihito is seen in 1945 at age 11, on his way to school in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)

Crown Prince Akihito is seen in 1945 at age 11, on his way to school in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)

Emperor Akihito takes a walk with his wife, Empress Michiko, through the garden of the Imperial Palace. (AP)

Emperor Akihito takes a walk with his wife, Empress Michiko, through the garden of the Imperial Palace. (AP)

The Emperor and his wife relax, looking at a map. Emperor Akihito says he feels relieved to see his reign coming to an end with the nation at peace. (AP)

The Emperor and his wife relax, looking at a map. Emperor Akihito says he feels relieved to see his reign coming to an end with the nation at peace. (AP)

An Emperor Says Goodbye

Posted: March 4, 2019

Japan’s Emperor Akihito turns 85 years old. Tens of thousands of people gather at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to cheer and wave flags. Now that’s a big birthday party! But the occasion is sad too. This marks Akihito’s final birthday as the 125th emperor of Japan.

A Japanese emperor represents his nation. Japanese people have great respect for the emperor. But, like royalty in Great Britain, a Japanese emperor does not have governing power. Emperor Akihito said “hello” to the Japanese throne in 1990, almost 30 years ago. In April, Emperor Akihito will say goodbye.

Tsugu Akihito grew up in the Imperial Palace. His father, Emperor Hirohito, was seen as the most important person in Japan. Akihito knew he would become the next emperor. When he was twelve, his father hired an American tutor named Elizabeth Vining to teach Akihito English. She also taught him to have fun. For a boy living in a rigid palace, that was a great gift! Mrs. Vining was a pacifist. She did not support going to war. (Just before that time, Japan had been involved in World War II.) As time went on, it became clear that Akihito valued peace too—maybe because of Mrs. Vining’s influence.

When his father died in 1989, Akihito became the emperor of Japan. By then, he was ready to lead. He wanted to care for the people of Japan. Emperor Akihito worked hard. He traveled all over Japan. He visited people who war had hurt. He didn’t want anyone to be fearful. He spoke of peace. And the years he reigned were peaceful. In Japanese, they were called “Heisei,” which means peace.

Emperor Akihito will make history when he abdicates (gives up the throne). No Japanese emperor has done this for two centuries! Emperors usually hold the throne until death. But Emperor Akihito worries he is too weak to lead Japan. His health is poor. He knows it is time to step down. His son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will become the next emperor of Japan.

Emperor Akihito abdicates because he wants to serve his country well. But one ruler will never get too old or tired to reign. The Bible reminds us that God, the King of Kings, will never give up His throne.

But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. ― Lamentations 5:19