Those following Japanese politics would be familiar with the impending abdication of the current ruling Emperor, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito. At first only being suggested through an indirect comment in a TV address earlier last year, the gears of Japanese government have turned such that it seems His Imperial Majesty will indeed get his wish for a retirement, with his son Crown Prince Naruhito taking over as Emperor of Japan. However this action, unprecedented in the history of Japan’s modern history, leaves a lot of questions to be answered.
One of them is exactly where the former Emperor will live upon his retirement from the Chrysanthemum Throne.
At present the Imperial Household Agency, responsible for all matters pertaining to the Emperor and his household, has not confirmed a final address for Akihito. There is a desire not to rush things, and it is a little premature to discuss future accommodations for His Imperial Majesty when a date for his abdication has not even been confirmed, although December next year is most often mentioned as a promising date.
That said, given that the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is properly the residence only of the reigning Emperor, it is highly unlikely that he will remain in residence after abdication. Instead, His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito, currently resident of Togu Gosho Palace, will move in upon his accession.
That said a number of potential locations have cropped up, and two in particular hold distinction for being former Japanese capitals, and therefore rich in history and Japanese imperial traditions. These are Nara, which was briefly the capital of Japan from 710AD to 794AD — lending its name to the Nara period of Japanese history — and Kyoto, which served as the nation’s capital from 794AD to 1869AD, whereupon Emperor Meiji transferred the capital to what is now today Tokyo.
While both are highly historical cities, forming some of the most ancient centres for Japanese culture and spirituality, it is hoped that their prestige would be further enhanced were they to become the official residence of a retired Emperor. Even if he has no formal role within Japanese government upon his retirement, Akihito would still be able to play an important part in the many rites and ceremonies practiced within those cities. The boost to tourism would also be a significant contributor to the city’s economy, in addition to the honour of being host to Akihito during his twilight years.
To this end, Nara have expressed interest in constructing a villa for the retiring Emperor, while Kyoto will most likely re-purpose one of its many former palaces.