Japanese News: Emperor Akihito will retire on April, 30th 2019

You may have heard that a date was finally set last week for the abdication of Emperor Akihito. I think it is time for me to try reading political articles, but I will start with a very short one.

Link to the article. (😲😨😱 As I check this link again, I realise that they completely changed the article in the meanwhile. When I studied it, it was a very short one… I am very sorry for that, but as this post is mainly focused on vocabulary, I think it is still okay…)

This article published on Asahi does not bring much information but given that I can’t read the title, I think it is a good material to study some vocabulary.

Let’s start with the title:

天皇陛下退位「2019年4月30日」 政令を閣議決定

To me, this is typically the kind of sentence that I can understand because I know the meaning of each kanji, but I could not possibly read it out loud with confidence. The only two words I already knew for sure are:

  • 天皇・てんのう Emperor
  • 決定・けってい decision (to say that something is set, settled, fixed, determined)

The other words are:

  • 陛下・へいか His or Her Majesty. This word is often seen together with 天皇. The two together can be translated as “His Majesty the Emperor” or “His Imperial Majesty”, though I think that English spoken news simply say “the Emperor”.
  • 退位・たいい means “abdication”. This is the kind of word whose meaning can be easily guessed with the context and if you know the word “退職” or “退院”.
  • 政令・せいれい means “a government ordinance” or “a cabinet order”. Here again, knowing both 政府 and 命令 helps a lot.
  • 閣議・かくぎ a cabinet meeting or session. Here again, I think that most people know 議 from 会議. We only need to remember that 内閣・ないかく is the word for “cabinet” or “government”. We find this word in the official appellation of Japan Prime Minister 内閣総理大臣・ないかくそうりだいじん.
  • Together with 決定, 閣議決定・かくぎけってい means a “cabinet decision”.

The article does not give really new information. It simply gives the retirement date and says that the new era name will be published next year. The government will also have to think of the form that the succession ceremony will take, with maybe some reference to the last Emperor who abdicated in Japan, 200 years ago. I guess that the difficulty is to set up a “succession” ceremony and not only an enthronement ceremony. The previous Emperor being usually dead when the new Emperor takes up the throne, I imagine that they never organised such succession ceremony before (that is, not for 200 years).

Through this short article, we can learn some words relative to the Japanese imperial system:

  • 皇太子・こうたいし Crown Prince.
  • 即位・そくい enthronement
  • 元号・げんごう an era name. It is still often used to state the year. For example, 2017 can be referred to as 平成29年. 平成・へいせい is the name of the present era, it started in 1989, when the actual Emperor, Emperor Akihito, acceded to the throne. The name of the era is also the posthumous name of the emperor.
  • 皇位継承・こういけいしょう means “succession to the Imperial Throne”.

Other relative words not used in the article but worth remembering:

  • 皇族・こうぞく the Imperial Family
  • 皇室・こうしつ also means “Imperial Household” and is used for example in “皇室典範・こうしつてんぱん” which means “Imperial Household Law”. The actual Imperial Household Law was established in 1947 and states that the succession should take place when the actual Emperor dies. “天皇が崩じたときは、大喪の礼を行う”.
    • 崩じる・ほうじる to pass away (for emperors)
    • 大喪・たいそう Imperial Mourning
    • 大喪の礼・たいそうのれい the Rites of an Imperial Funeral
  • 宮内庁・くないちょう the Imperial Household Agency, which is in charge of state matters concerning the Imperial Family
  • 皇居・こうきょ the Imperial Palace
  • 皇位・こうい the Imperial Throne
  • Another word that might appear in articles relative to this question is the word “摂政・せっしょう” which means “Regency” or “a regent”. “Set up a Regency” is said “摂政を置く”.

I found these words in the book “Asahi Keywords 2018” 「朝日キーワード2018」published by 朝日新聞出版 in 2017. (If you are interested in buying this book, I recommend to wait until the beginning of 2018 as they will certainly publish a new edition then).

asahi keywordsThis book presents in short and “easy” articles, the main issues that made the news in 2016 and 2017. Each article is a double-page long and explains political and social issues. As the book aims at Japanese, the articles can be said to be easy, that is, well explained, but it is still a challenging book for Japanese learners. Personally, I find it easier to read than news articles, and it is a good way to learn some vocabulary relative to a certain matter. For example, with only the above-cited words, I can understand the entire article (not all the words, of course, but still well enough) devoted to the Emperor’s abdication in this book (p.22-23).

To wrap up this article, a simplified family tree of the Imperial Family. You can easily find some on the web, but I wanted to make mine with English, kanji and furigana. I did it for my own purpose because I am sure that there will be a lot more articles about the Imperial Family to come next year. After doing it, I think I know who is who and what are the issues relatives to the succession. As it might be helpful to others too, I upload it here, but I may have made mistakes and I am still confused about the different appellations that exist in Japanese and English…

Male members of the family are in red, women are in green. In bold, the previous and actual Emperors and the Crown Prince. Both Prince Masahito and Princess Sayako are married but as they have no children and as I ran out of space, I didn’t write the spouse’s name. Princess Sayako married a commoner, so she lost her royal status. (pdf version: japan imperial household)

imperial family