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WHY IT MATTERS IF JAPAN’S EMPEROR ABDICATES

AT AGE 82, and in declining health, the emperor of Japan, Akihito, indicated in a televised address on August 9 that he is contemplating abdication from the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. In itself, that would seem unremarkable news, particularly outside Japan. In the postwar era, the Chrysanthemum Throne has been drained of almost all of its political potency, thanks largely to a constitution written by the Americans after World War II. Thus was Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, transformed before the world from a symbol of Japanese militarism—and, to the Japanese, a living god—to a quiet, meek old man with an interest in marine biology.

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