On April 29, Showa Day, I visited the Musashino imperial cemetery in Hachioji in suburban Tokyo. After I passed a parking lot with an array of right-wing campaign vehicles, I suddenly found myself in a serene setting.
I saw the glistening young leaves of maples at the end of the cedar-lined approach to the mausoleum complex.
The four mausoleums of Emperor Showa (1901-1989), Empress Kojun (1903-2000), Emperor Taisho (1879-1926) and Empress Teimei (1884-1951) are located in an extensive wooded area.
A "torii" Shinto gate stands before each mausoleum, whose shape looks like a giant soup bowl turned upside down. The mausoleums stand at a distance of about 100 meters from each other. In accordance with tradition that has been observed since the Edo Period (1603-1867), the bodies are buried.
However, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have expressed a desire to be cremated like ordinary mortals instead of being given elaborate burials. They want to be interred together in simple funeral ceremonies.
As befitting the first emperor who has been "a symbol" from the time of his accession, Akihito's style of bidding farewell may also provide a turning point in the history of the imperial family.
The emperor's intent was disclosed by Shingo Haketa, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency. It can be interpreted as his "living will."
Since there are limits to land that can be used to build imperial graves, and government finances are in dire straits, the emperor apparently does not want to burden the public.
Up to now, 41 emperors have been cremated. There have also been cases in which emperors and empresses were buried together.
The couple met on a tennis court and fell in love. Michiko became the first commoner to marry a crown prince. They lived with and raised their children. This was a departure from imperial tradition, which embodied the imperial family of a new age. The idea of a simple funeral is timely, and a joint interment suits the couple known for their closeness.
I once again feel close to the imperial couple, whose feelings clearly mirror those of ordinary people. Of course, it is premature to talk about the passing of the emperor, who recently recuperated from heart surgery and is looking forward to visiting Britain. I think he took it upon himself to raise the subject knowing it is difficult for those around him to speak about such things. The more I come to understand his "common touch," the more I find myself hoping he will live longer.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 2
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