Japan began a new imperial era today. Following the abdication (the first in some 200 years) of Emperor Akihito (ending the "Heisei" era), his son Naruhito assumed the throne this morning as japan's 126th emperor, inaugurating the new "Reiwa" ("Beautiful Harmony") era. I think abdication is a dubious - and possibly dangerous - practice when an office is intended to be life-long and is modeled in some sense on the family relationship. But, in this era of longevity (with all the ills which accompany increasing old age), abdications are becoming much more common and may mark an inevitable transformation of such hitherto lifelong offices.
Naruhito is now "Tenno," which apparently means "the ruler sent from heaven," a primarily religious and cultural concept, somewhat analogous to the western Christian concept of an anointed king or queen. The depredations of the 20th century have significantly reduced the number and prominence of such figures in our modern world, with no obvious benefit to societies desperately in need for forging significant social bonds against the increasing fragmentation which marks modernity. Luckily for Japan, amid all the changes imposed upon that ancient society as a result of defeat in war, the imperial institution has survived as a much needed symbol of continuity and social unity. General Douglas MacArthur had his faults, which ultimately led to his much needed dismissal by President Truman (and his famous "fade away"), but, as Supreme Commander of the American occupation of conquered Japan he did have the good sense to preserve Japan's imperial throne.
Ironically, the first foreign visitor the new emperor and empress will host is expected to be our own President Trump. Not unlike President Trump's forthcoming state visit to the United Kingdom in June, this visit will highlight the contrast in personal and institutional values represented by the royal hosts and their American guest.
A more public enthronement ceremony will take place on October 22, during which Naruhito will parade through the streets of the capital and be congratulated by other world leaders and royalty.