The celebration of the birthday of Emperor Akihito this year held at the official residence in Atlanta of Japan‘s consul general on the evening of Dec. 4 marked the passing of an era due to the emperor’s pending abdication from the Chrysanthemum throne next year.
Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30 having assumed the throne upon his father’s death in 1989. His eldest son, Prince Naruhito, is to ascend to the throne on May 1.
The 30-year era during which the emperor reigned is known as Heisei and after his death he is be renamed Emperor Heisei by order of the Japanese cabinet. He is 85 years old and is the 125th member of the world’s oldest reigning dynasty. His abdication marks the first of a Japanese emperor in more than two centuries.
Emperor Akihito visited Atlanta in 1994 during an 11-city tour of the United States with his wife Empress Michiko at which time he was greeted by former President Jimmy Carter and other officials including Mayor Bill Campbell.
Takashi Shinozuka, Japan’s consul general for the Southeast, noted in his welcoming remarks that next year is to be an exceptionally eventful one in Japan.
“The May 1st ascension of His Highness the Crown Prince to the throne following His Majesty the Emperor’s abdication will be cause for much celebration,” he said.
He also pointed to other upcoming events such as Osaka‘s hosting of the first G20 Summit ever to be held in Japan in June, to be followed by the Rugby World Cup in September.
In October, the annual meeting of the Southeast-U.S.-Japan Association and the Japan-US. Association (SEUS Japan Meeting) is to be held in Savannah as preparations for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be taking place.
Mr. Shinozuka has had a formal relationship with Emperor Akihito having served as vice grand master of the ceremonies in the Imperial Household Agency prior to assuming his post here in January 2016
Despite the emperor’s upcoming abdication and the slew of Japan-U.S. activities to take place, the consul general first extended in his opening remarks his condolences to the United Sates at the death of former President George H.W. Bush, who had died five days earlier.
“He was a great man and a great friend to Japan,” Mr. Shinozuka said. “Many accomplishments between our two countries were made during his time in office. Japan mourns with the U.S..”
He also recalled having served as an interpreter between then-President Bush and Japan’s prime minister, Kaifu Tashiki, in 1990 during a G7 meeting in Houston, Texas.
With Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina in his jurisdiction, Mr. Shinozuka also took a regional perspective in his remarks.
“Japanese companies across the Southeast have expanded and grown,” he said. “There are some 640 Japan-affiliated companies in Georgia. The number of such companies in the North and South Carolina has nearly doubled in the past decade. And with this year’s announcement of the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA Inc. plant in Alabama, it’s clear all four states are friendly to Japanese business.”
He cited support from state and local governments, access to quality education, healthcare and safety for employees’ families and welcoming communities for encouraging the presence of some many Japanese companies.
He also praised the state of Georgia’s General Assembly for recognizing through a resolution the 45th anniversary of the presence of an office of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in Tokyo. The office was the first the state established overseas to encourage inbound development.
Next year also will be the 45th anniversary of the Japan’s consulate general for the Southeast, which he called an “important milestone.”
State School Superintendent Richard Woods in his remarks underscored the importance of training Georgia students for “the jobs of tomorrow,” and pointed to the opening of a Japanese-language immersion school, the International Charter Academy of Georgia, earlier in the year.
Georgia Rep. Trey Kelley, a Republican from Cedartown, presented a birthday greeting to the emperor from Gov. Nathan Deal. State Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley then led a toast to the new year and all attending joined in with their cups of sake.