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Japan Ponders Life in Post-Hirohito Era

February 26, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ Searching for their national identity in a post-Hirohito era, the Japanese are embracing values suited to a modern economic powerhouse while sometimes mourning the parting with the old ways.

In the early years of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, which began in 1926, Japan embarked on a militaristic course that led to national humiliation and defeat in World War II.

Today Japan is rich, exerting international influence through financial power, while its military is limited by a constitution that explicitly rejects using international force.

The nation’s rebirth was the work of wartime survivors who turned their energies to building a rich, peaceful Japan. The reign of the new emperor, Akihito, is the era of their children’s generation.

Hirohito, the world’s longest reigning monarch, was entombed Friday.

When older Japanese speak of him, they think of the shared experiences of the war and the long, hard climb out of the ruins of defeat.

Many say they thought of Hirohito as a father figure and that he embodied the traditional Japanese virtues of modesty, loyalty to family, and hard work. He attended diligently to his official functions and to his avocation as a respected marine biologist.

″Judging by what the new emperor has so far said in public, there are strong indications that he has no intention to inherit from his father the role as patriarch of the nation,″ wrote Kyoto University Professor Takamitsu Sawa in Saturday’s Japan Times.

As national symbols, Akihito and Empress Michiko are seen as representative of a more modern, international Japan. The new monarch ″is said to regard the British type of royalty as an ideal for his reign,″ Sawa said.

Hirohito’s death gives Japan an opportunity to break away from a family- patterned society headed by the emperor and embrace values of ″individualism, liberalism and democracy,″ he added.

Even some older Japanese have already broken sharply with the old values.

Many do feel admiration and sympathy for the imperial family, but others object to the expense of Hirohito’s $74 million state funeral.

″I think it’s outrageous the state went to so much trouble for one individual,″ said Kiyoshi Yokoyama, 70.

Based on their memories of militarism before and during World War II, Japanese cherish their modern freedoms, says Takashi Inoguchi, professor of political science at Tokyo University.

But some social critics express concern about what they see as a lack of old-fashioned virtues of loyalty and diligence among Japan’s youth, who have known only peace and affluence.

″The success of the Showa era was not without cost,″ says Kyoto University Professor Masataka Kosaka, using the official name of Hirohito’s reign. ″Today, ethics have diversified and the people have become open to different views ... but they have lost simple and solid faith.″

Today’s Japanese often show little caring for traditional values.

During Friday’s funeral, when the government urged the public to reflect quietly on Hirohito’s passing, tens of thousands took advantage of the national holiday to flee Tokyo for the ski slopes.

″I’m sure he was an impressive person, but for us it doesn’t really matter,″ said Tomomi Tominaga, 24, who spent most of Friday in the mountains skiing.

For young Japanese, the beginning of the new era prompts other reflection.

″Older people probably feel differently, but for us, it’s really the beginning of a new era, our era,″ said Naomi Kishi, 30.

While the debate continues over Hirohito’s historical role, Japan’s new emperor has directed his nation’s attention to Japan’s future, pledging to promote peace in his limited role as a national symbol.

″Your image ... will live in people’s memory for a long time,″ said Akihito, addressing his father’s spirit at the funeral.

″But we are now separated in two different worlds. You are now in the world of our ancestors, and I remain in the world of the living.″

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