First Royal Goodwill Tour Showcases ‘Reiwa Style’

His Majesty Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako visited Indonesia as state guests for a week from June 17 to 23. This is their first friendly visit to a foreign country since the Emperor ascended the throne and opened the Reiwa era.

It is also the emperor’s first foreign visit since the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II in Britain in September.

Chang Yasushi Takeda

queen smile

Initially there were concerns over whether Her Majesty’s health would allow her to travel. Fortunately, the two His Majesties were able to travel together. The royal couple looked natural and relaxed throughout. Empress Masako’s occasional smile is especially charming.

It was the couple’s first trip abroad for international goodwill in about 21 years. Their last goodwill visit was to Australia and New Zealand in 2002.

The Queen was often absent from official duties during her tenure as Crown Princess. However, as a Japanese citizen, I am delighted and gracious with her performance as empress. I believe this is due to the emperor’s support over the years. I have the highest respect for him.

Shortly after the emperor ascended the throne, the outbreak of the new crown pneumonia (COVID-19) epidemic severely limited the official activities of the emperor and his wife. More than three years have passed and the Empire has not visited anyone in Japan or abroad. One can imagine how exciting this friendly visit must have been for both of them.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Indonesia. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the friendly cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan.

His Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan met with Indonesians at the Jakarta Buddhist University on June 20, 2023. (© Sankei, Kengo Matsumoto)

Distinguish “Reiwa style”

Former Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also made their first goodwill visits to the region. After ascending the throne, they visited three Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia.

Since this is the first goodwill visit of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, there has been much speculation about their “Reiwa style”. What would their well-intentioned efforts look like?

During his visit to the Dharma University, His Majesty discussed the future with the students. “My name is Naruto. It doesn’t matter,” the emperor told a student who liked the anime “Naruto.”

His Majesty’s brilliant jokes and Her Majesty’s big laughs drew widespread coverage. Talking regardless of high or low, using jokes to ease the atmosphere, which shows the emperor’s kindness and consideration.

His Majesty the Emperor and Empress speak to children gathered at a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, on June 17 (© Kyodo News)

get rid of the apology

There are a few caveats to this well-intentioned Reiwa style. Emperor Akihito’s Asian tours have always had World War II as their theme. However, Emperor Naruhito did not mention the war when he met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during his recent visit to the region, Kyodo news agency reported.

During his visit to Indonesia in October 1991, Emperor Akihito mentioned World War II in a speech at a banquet. This time, however, organizers advised against verbal communication “to make the event more joyful”.

In his pre-departure press conference, Emperor Naruhito did mention the war. However, neither country has criticized him for not formally referring to the war while he was in Indonesia.

His Majesty the Emperor attends a press conference ahead of his visit to Indonesia. On the afternoon of June 15th, the Imperial Palace “Stone Bridge Room” (pool photo)

generation change

This hints at a new form of international goodwill born out of generational change. I believe this is the result of trust between the two peoples. This trust was sown by the close relationship between the current and former emperor couples and the people of Southeast Asia. Japan’s postwar contribution to the region’s development was also an important factor.

After returning to Japan, the two heads of state spoke of “the potential of the younger generation in the friendship and cooperation between our two countries.” “We hope they will expand their interest in each other’s countries. We believe they can play an important role in further deepening mutual understanding and friendly cooperation between our two countries,” the emperor said.

The visit of the two heads of state to Indonesia is of symbolic significance, representing that the young generations of the two countries will jointly create the future.

Emperor Naruhito and President Joko Widodo walk together during a welcome ceremony at the Royal Palace in Bogor, Indonesia. June 19th. (© Sankei, Kengo Matsumoto)

hold a memorial service

Much media attention has been focused on this “Reiwa-style” international goodwill. However, it is worth noting that the two Majesties also continued the tradition of the memorial service. This tradition was established by Emperor Showa and Emperor Emeritus.

During his visit to Indonesia, a memorial service was held at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery. Some 9,700 soldiers who died in the War of Independence with the Netherlands are buried here. The couple’s stately appearance at the ceremony bears a striking resemblance to former emperors and empresses.

On June 20, His Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan laid flowers at the monument at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery in Jakarta. (© Sankei, Kengo Matsumoto)

The two His Majesties prayed silently for nearly two minutes in front of the monument. Then they presented flowers. Two minutes is a long time for silent prayer. Many were moved by His Majesty the King’s sincere tribute to the lost heroes.

The cemetery also holds the burial of 28 Japanese soldiers who stayed in Indonesia after the war and fought with the Indonesian people in the War of Independence. Many of them were killed in combat and were deemed stateless until the 1960s. This is the case despite their significant contribution to the independence of Indonesia.

Before the memorial service, His Majesty met with the descendants of these Japanese soldiers. “Tomorrow, I will give flowers with all my heart,” the queen reportedly said.

It is very meaningful that His Majesty chooses to let people pay attention to the lives and deeds of these Japanese soldiers. I would like to express my sincere respect to both Your Majesties as they look back on the past and look forward to the future.


(read article Japanese.)

Author: Takeda Tsuneyasu

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