With the ascension of a new emperor and the dawn of the Reiwa Era, Kenneth J. Ruoff has expanded upon and updated The People’s Emperor, his study of the monarchy’s role as a political, societal, and cultural institution in contemporary Japan. Many Japanese continue to define the nation’s identity through the imperial house, making it a window into Japan’s postwar history.
Ruoff begins by examining the reform of the monarchy during the US occupation and then turns to its evolution since the Japanese regained the power to shape it. To understand the monarchy’s function in contemporary Japan, the author analyzes issues such as the role of individual emperors in shaping the institution, the intersection of the monarchy with politics, the emperor’s and the nation’s responsibility for the war, nationalistic movements in support of the monarchy, and the remaking of the once-sacrosanct throne into a “people’s imperial house” embedded in the postwar culture of democracy. Finally, Ruoff examines recent developments, including the abdication of Emperor Akihito and the heir crisis, which have brought to the forefront the fragility of the imperial line under the current legal system, leading to calls for reform.
Three cheers to the Harvard University Asia Center for publishing an updated version of Ruoff’s landmark study of Japan’s postwar monarchy in a global context. In translation, the original edition was awarded Japan’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize and is considered by many Japanese to be the most important study of the monarchy ever published. In this updated edition, Ruoff deftly analyzes the Heisei Monarchy (1989–2019) under Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, including the abdication of Akihito, as well as the heir crisis that imperils the future of the imperial line.
The original edition of The People’s Emperor is the finest work we have on the Japanese monarchy since World War II, widely read and widely praised in its Japanese translation as well. The new and expanded edition assess the three-decade reign of the Heisei monarch, Akihito, with insight and balance. It thoughtfully addresses the ongoing challenges facing a male-only monarchy in an era of changing views on gender and a dearth of male heirs.
I am delighted that the incisive analysis of Japan’s monarchy in the postwar era provided in The People’s Emperor has been updated to include developments up through the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Japan.
- 442 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Asia Center
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