Slightly jet lagged and a little hung over I woke up(after only a few hours of sleep) on January 2,2009 resolved to make it to Chiyoda ward. The reason I skipped some much needed rest was to witness something kind of special. Apparently, there are only two dates on the calendar in which the inner garden of the Emperor`s palace is open to the public; his birthday and New Years. Despite the royal family having no real power many Japanese still gather in mass twice a year to see the royal family address the public. This year I was among the hoard of people gathered to catch a glimpse of the Japanese Emperor.
I have never been a person who puts much faith in royalty. I mostly view royalty as a drain on government funds and allowing a society to make gods out of men. Yet, there is something special about royalty which I cannot deny. The history that royal families stand behind is amazing. The thought of one blood line being able to maintain their position at the top of society for so many years boggles my mind.
Anyway, at around 1:40 pm on the 2nd day of the year I found myself standing with a large crowd of people all waiting to see the royal family of Japan. The energy of the crowd was strange for me. All of those people getting so excited to see some old man and his spoiled family was a little shocking for me. These `royals` are nothing more than humans just like everyone waiting to see them for a few minutes. They are nothing more than people who are living off the legend of their dead relatives. For the Japanese it appears that this old man and his spoiled family hold a lot of meaning. From what I gathered at the palace the royal family are more than just a family of people. It seems that the royals are the symbol of the spirit of Japanese society. They are supposed to give hope to the Japanese people. While they may be giving hope to the masses it is still rare for most Japanese to ever see the royal family. I guess the idea that the Emperor is alive is enough for most Japanese to get all filled with hope.
The actual amount of time the royal family took to spread hope was very short. They presented themselves to the public about 15 minutes at the most. When they showed-up from atop a special balcony the crowd went crazy. People started cheering and screaming like a rock star had just showed up. Everyone had paper Japanese flags and waved them in the air. The sea of flags looked like one of those rallies after a politician wins an election. People were going mad for a man who can offer no solutions to issues effecting their daily lives. The event was capped off by the old Emperor giving a short speech which he told the Japanese people to `stay strong during these tough times.` Yeah, ok old man we will stay strong while you enjoy the best of life with our tax money.
Hell, I should not be so hard on this tradition of praising the Emperor. At one time the position of Emperor carried a lot of power and influence. The Japanese even used to think that the Emperor was god. I can imagine how hard it must be to toss old traditions out the window. For over 1,000 years it was believed that the Emperor was god. A 1,000 plus year old tradition is something which does not go away easily. Now days all Japanese know and understand that the Emperor is not god. They know that he really is just an old man with a spoiled family. So I think that the Japanese people do not put much faith in the Emperor rather their faith rest in the title of Emperor. The position itself stands for something much more than some old man and his crazy family. The idea that the soul of Japan rest with the title of Emperor is something I may never fully understand.
Overall, it was cool to experience such an event. It is a part of Japanese culture that is rare to witness because it only happens twice a year. Now I can say that I have seen the Emperor of Japan. If you want to see something kind of rare then mark your calendar for the Emperor`s birthday.