Photo/IllutrationEmperor Akihito delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 198th Diet session on Jan. 28. (Takeshi Iwashita)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Emperor Akihito attended the opening ceremony of the 198th ordinary Diet session on Jan. 28 to deliver what will apparently be his final ritual speech.

“I strongly hope that the Diet fully executes its mission as the highest institution of sovereignty to address immediate issues, both domestic and international, and responds to the sacred trust of the people,” said Akihito, whose abdication of the throne on April 30 will end the Heisei Era.

According to the Imperial Household Agency, it marked the 82nd attendance of Akihito to open a Diet session since his enthronement.

His first attendance to a Diet opening ceremony was February 1989, the first year of Heisei. During a ritual speech, Akihito, the first emperor to accede to the Chrysanthemum Throne under the postwar Constitution, which defines the status of the emperor as “the symbol” of the nation, referred to the Diet members as “minasan” (everyone).

It was a radical departure from his father, Emperor Hirohito, who referred to the lawmakers, the representatives of all the people, as “shokun,” a Japanese term that implies a subordinate-superior relationship.

During a speech at the opening of a Diet session in January 1995, Akihito acknowledged the plight of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which devastated the Kobe area.

“The damage caused by the earthquake is extensive, and it is urgently necessary to provide swift relief and recovery,” he said.

According to the agency, convocation of the Diet is the constitutional function of the emperor, while attending an opening ceremony and delivering an address to the Diet are considered public functions.

The emperor has continually attended the opening ceremony since the inaugural Diet session in 1947 in response to a request from speakers of both houses.

For Akihito, the opening ceremony of a Diet session is an “important event” and he always values his attendance, according to an official of the agency.

He has never missed a ceremony except for the 156th session in January 2003, when he was hospitalized for prostate surgery.