‘Children and youth touched him’: Photos show how Japan’s emperor handled his gender role

Obituaries honoring Emperor Akihito carried captions in various languages that read, “as Emperor he dealt with heavy burdens that were left behind, such as the shame of being the most highly unpopular monarch in Japan,” and “he carried out his duties in a very dignified manner, and without inflicting any public shame.” Born in 1927, Akihito ascended the throne as Crown Prince in September 1972, at the age of 33. His father, Hirohito, declared that Japanese were not at war in August 1945 — over which he and his family held the title “juche,” or “king” — and Akihito took the throne two years later. As Emperor, he took on a weaker role and became known for his quiet and collected manner, which was said to have inspired youth — and his eventual reversion to his surname.

In 2015, a photo was posted to Twitter showing a woman reaching out and touching his arm, in front of a huge crowd of people at the Imperial Palace. The caption said: “Everyone touched him once.”

Akihito briefly referred to his gender in 1989.

On Jan. 15, 2018, Akihito made a speech at a ceremony to mark the New Year that opened his Palace home.

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