30 April 2019 is a historic date in Japan. For the first time in two hundred years a Japanese emperor will abdicate. In June of 2017 the National Diet of Japan passed a law allowing Emperor Akihito, 85, to abdicate and hand over to his son Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, who will be the 126th Emperor of Japan from 1 May 2019.
In Japanese, the title of the Emperor of Japan, Tennō, literally means “heavenly sovereign”. However, the post-WWII constitution of Japan defines the role of the Emperor as mostly ceremonial; he is “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”. The Emperor is no longer the head of the Japanese Shinto religion.
The Imperial Standard of the Emperor is a red banner with the Imperial Seal of Japan, a golden 16-petal Chrysanthemum flower. The term Chrysanthemum Throne can be used when referring to the office of head-of-state of Japan. According to legend, the Japanese monarchy was founded in 660 BC by Emperor Jimmu and is therefore the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy.
There is also an Imperial Standard of the Empress, a swallow-tailed version of the emperor’s standard, as well as specific flags for other members of the Imperial Family.
Emperor Akihito was born in 1933 and succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne when his father Emperor Hirohito died on 7 January 1989. In 1959 he married Michiko Shōda and they had two sons and one daughter. The imperial couple is highly respected amongst the Japanese.
The 31-year reign of Emperor Akihito is known in Japan as the era of Heisei. In April of 2019 it was announced that the new era of Emperor Naruhito will be known as Reiwa. This word can be translated to mean “beautiful harmony”.
Emperor Akihito’s and Empress Michiko’s new titles following the abdication will be Jōkō and Jōkōgō (in English: Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita).
I have not been able to find out if there will also be a new flag for the retired monarch. It is worth noting that in the 20th Century the Imperial Standard of the Empress was used by more than one empress at the same: the wife of an emperor, the Empress Consort (Kōgō), and the widow of an emperor who has died, the Empress Dowager (Kōtaigō). If and when the Emperor Emeritus appears in public, it will be interesting to see if, for example, his car flag is the same as before the abdication.