Emperor Akihito, suffering from heart surgery and prostate cancer, will be the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years. He became monarch of the 2,600-year-old Chrysanthemum throne after his father, Emperor Hirohito, died in 1989. Akihito will handover the strictly ceremonial title to his 56-year old son, Naruhito.

Following the defeat of his father during the Second World War and serving under a constitution imposed by the United States, Akihito’s reign has been described as the Heisei era, which is translated as “achieving peace.”

Akihito reigned during Japan’s economic rise and subsequent collapse after its bubble economy crumbled, resulting in decades of economic decline. The collapse is a classic example of how an inflated money supply and unchecked credit expansion produce overheated economic activity that ultimately implode national economies.

While popular with the Japanese people, the archaic monarchy has faced increased criticism since the end of the Second World War. The second largest party in the country, the Japanese Communist Party, advocated revolution to overthrow Imperial Japan’s monarchy and create a socialist state. In the 1980s, leftist radicals were suspected of attacking the graves of two former emperors and setting off bombs near the Imperial Palace.

Rightwing extremists, on the other hand, have used violence to defend the name of the Emperor. In 1961, a fanatic attacked the family of the editor of the monthly magazine Chuo-koron because the periodical published a novel considered irreverent to the throne. Extremists were responsible for the assassination of socialist leader Asanuma Inejiro in 1960 and an attempt on the life of former prime minister Ohira Masayoshi in 1978.

Despite the fact the monarchy is ceremonial and wields no power, it continues to influence the political landscape in Japan.

Imperial Cult Strives to Restore Absolute Monarchy

Nippon Kaigi, a small cult including a number of the country’s most powerful people, follows a brand of Shintoism dating before and during World War II. The exclusive sect elevates the Emperor to the status of a God. Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, was formed in 1997 and its major tenets are the elimination of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, the end of equality between the sexes, the expulsion of foreigners, rejection of human rights laws, and a restoration of Japan’s Imperial Glory realized during and after the Meiji era.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who declared an election victory on Sunday, has ties to the Nippon Kaigi organization go back to the ’90s.

“In line with fellow members of his imperial and imperialist cult, Abe has said the revision of the constitution is his lifetime goal,” write Jake Edelstein and Mari Yamamoto. “Abe and his party, at least the extremist factions, are at last coming very close to that goal.”

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