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On the last day of Heisei

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April 30 finally arrived. It was the last day of the Heisei Era and Emperor Akihito retired, marking the first imperial abdication in more than 200 years. May 1 is the historic first day of Reiwa, when Emperor Naruhito assumes the throne from his father. The world outside Japan, however, seems to be changing on its own merits regardless.

The situation was the same 30 years ago. I vividly remember the beginning of the Heisei Era. It was a cold winter day on Jan. 8, 1989 — a day after the passing of Emperor Hirohito, posthumously named Emperor Showa. I was with the office for Japan-U.S. security treaty affairs in the North America Bureau of the Foreign Ministry. I was just 36 years old.

Five months later, student demonstrators were brutally oppressed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4. On Nov. 9 the same year, East Berlin’s Communist Party changed the city’s relations with the West and the world witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall beginning the next day. The first year of Heisei was also symbolic as the year the post-Cold War era started.

On Aug. 2 the following year, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq abruptly invaded Kuwait, which drastically changed the strategic balance of power between the two coastal areas of the Persian/Arabian Gulf. The United States-led coalition mobilized half a million troops in the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf War started on Jan. 17, 1991.

Japan was not a coalition member in 1991 because it could not send combat troops to join the coalition forces in the Middle East. What Tokyo could do was just provide........

© The Japan Times