10 things to know about Japan's new emperor Naruhito

On April 30, Japan’s Emperor Akihito will officially retire, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in over 200 years. The following day his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the throne, signalling the start of the new Reiwa era. Here are 10 things to know about the soon-to-be emperor.

Japan's new emperor Naruhito

Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako visiting Fiordland National Park in 2002. Credit: KYODO

He will be Japan’s 126th emperor

The imperial house of Japan is thought to be the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. Crown Prince Naruhito will be the 126th emperor in a line that some claim stretches back more than 2,600 years. But in recent years, the future of that bloodline has been called into question, given male-only succession rules and a shortage of young male heirs. 

He will be the first emperor born after World War II

Emperor Akihito spent much of his 30-year reign making amends for a war which was fought in his father's name. While Naruhito was born 15 years after the surrender, he also intends to remember Japan's wartime past. He told a press conference in 2015: “Although I was born after the war and did not experience it, I think that today, where memories of the war have started to fade, it is important to look back in a humble way on the past and pass on correctly the tragic experiences of war.”

He was the subject of a parenting guide

As a child, when Naruhito's parents went away on official trips, his mother, then Crown Princess Michiko, would leave his nannies detailed instructions on how to best care for the young prince. These were later compiled into a child-rearing guide titled “Naruchan Kenpo”, or “Little Naru’s Constitution”.

He studied at Oxford University

In 1983, the 23-year-old prince moved to Oxford University’s Merton College, where he spent two years studying the history of transportation on the River Thames. A decade later he published a memoir about his experiences, titled "The Thames and I", describing his years at Oxford as the “happiest time of my life”.

He married an up-and-coming diplomat

In 1986, Naruhito met Masako Owada, a Harvard graduate with a promising diplomatic career, while at a tea party for a member of the Spanish royal family. Upon proposing to her in 1992, Naruhito reportedly said: “You might have fears and worries about joining the imperial household. But I will protect you for my entire life.” The pair celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in June 2018.

He has a daughter

Princess Aiko, 17, is the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. There had been extraordinary pressure on the couple to produce a male heir. After Aiko was born, a law change was considered to allow a woman to take over the throne. However, discussions fizzled out in 2006, when the birth of her cousin, Prince Hisahito, meant there was another male heir waiting in the wings. 

He plays the viola

Naruhito is an accomplished viola player, and occasionally performs in public alongside symphony orchestras. In 2013, he played a viola made of debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami at a concert in the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre.

He’s interested in water issues

From 2007 to 2015, Naruhito served as Honorary President of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. He's also a regular attendee of the World Water Forum. Naruhito’s interest in water policy and conservation was reportedly sparked when he visited Nepal in 1987 and saw women and children lining up to fill pots with drinking water. 

He wants to remain ‘close to the people’

The role of the emperor is to be “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”. When asked at a press conference in 2017 how he would fulfil this role, Naruhito said: “I would like to continue to think of the people and pray for them, and just as Their Majesties do, always be close to the people in their thoughts, and share their joys and sorrows.”

He’s been to New Zealand

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako made an official visit to New Zealand in December 2002. During the five-day tour, the couple spent time in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, with sightseeing trips to Te Anau and Milford Sound. Naruhito said he and his wife hoped to return one day with Princess Aiko to walk the Milford Track.

- Asia Media Centre