The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, Is Still Publishing Scientific Papers in His 80s

State Depart­ment pho­to by William Ng, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

On April 30, 2019, Emper­or Aki­hi­to of Japan will abdi­cate, and pass the throne to his son, Crown Prince Naruhi­to. What will he do in his retire­ment? Prob­a­bly the same thing he has done most of his life: make “tax­o­nom­ic stud­ies of gob­ies,” as the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Japan reports, “small fish found in fresh, brack­ish and marine waters.” Aki­hi­to has been a mem­ber of Japan’s Ichthy­olog­i­cal Soci­ety of Japan for decades and “pub­lished 30 papers in the society’s jour­nal between 1963 and 1989.”

Aki­hi­to ascend­ed the throne in 1989, at age 56, and yes, Japan still has an emper­or, though—since the post-war Con­sti­tu­tion of 1947—the con­sti­tu­tion­al monarch has no polit­i­cal pow­er and serves only a cer­e­mo­ni­al role. This has left Aki­hi­to with a lot of time to fill with sci­en­tif­ic pur­suits: to become an hon­orary mem­ber of the Lin­nean Soci­ety of Lon­don, Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don, and Research Insti­tute for Nat­ur­al Sci­ence of Argenti­na, and a research asso­ciate at the Aus­tralian Muse­um.

Emper­or Aki­hi­to remained an active sci­en­tist in his emper­or­ship, pub­lish­ing a his­to­ry of sci­ence arti­cle in Nature titled “Lin­naeus and tax­on­o­my in Japan” in 2007. In 2016, Aki­hi­to appeared as first author in a study pub­lished in Gene. The sec­ond author is his younger son, Crown Prince Fumi­hi­to Akishi­no, who stud­ied fish tax­on­o­my at St. John’s Col­lege, Oxford, then com­plet­ed a doc­tor­al degree in ornithol­o­gy. The prince now serves as the pres­i­dent of the Yamashina Insti­tute for Ornithol­o­gy and the Japan­ese Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­dens and Aquar­i­ums.

The family’s inter­est in sci­ence goes beyond the dab­bling of bored aris­to­crats or a sense of noblesse oblige. Fumi­hi­to intro­duced tilapia to Thai­land as an impor­tant food source and has helped Thai sci­en­tists expand their aqua­cul­tur­al research. The Emperor’s broth­er, Prince Masahi­to, is a can­cer researcher who has been rec­og­nized for mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the field, pub­lish­ing in jour­nals like Can­cer Research and the Jour­nal of the Inter­na­tion­al Union Against Can­cer.

The Impe­r­i­al fam­i­ly may rep­re­sent an out­mod­ed and archa­ic insti­tu­tion, one humankind can do just as well with­out. But it’s refresh­ing to see peo­ple with such vast resources and priv­i­lege use them for the pur­suit of intel­lec­tu­al inquiry and the bet­ter­ment of human and ani­mal life. You can read the first page of one of Emper­or Akihito’s papers, “Ear­ly Cul­ti­va­tors of Sci­ence in Japan” at Sci­ence in which he makes a case for the glob­al shar­ing of knowl­edge.

“Through my own study of ichthy­ol­o­gy,” Aki­hi­to writes, “I have come to feel strong­ly the impor­tance of inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion in con­duct­ing sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies. I recall with a sense of grat­i­tude that behind each one of the papers I have pub­lished there has been the unspar­ing coop­er­a­tion of peo­ple abroad.”

via Sha­haf Peleg

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

How the Japan­ese Prac­tice of “For­est Bathing”—Or Just Hang­ing Out in the Woods—Can Low­er Stress Lev­els and Fight Dis­ease

After­math of the Tsuna­mi in Japan

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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