From the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868 until the Japanese surrender that ended World War II, the Emperor of Japan was an all-powerful god/king. The Imperial Japanese Armed Forces spent the first half of the twentieth century conquering vast swathes of Asia, fighting the Russians and the Americans, and menacing even Australia and New Zealand.
With the country's defeat in 1945, however, Emperor Hirohito was forced to renounce his divine status, as well as all direct political power. Nonetheless, the Chrysanthemum Throne endures. So, what does the current emperor of Japan actually do?
Today, Hirohito's son, Emperor Akihito, sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne. According to the Constitution of Japan, Akihito is a "symbol of the state and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power."
The current emperor of Japan has official duties that include receiving foreign dignitaries, awarding decorations to Japanese citizens, convening the Diet, and officially appointing the Prime Minister as selected by the Diet. This narrow scope leaves Akihito with a lot of free time to pursue hobbies and other interests.
How does Emperor Akihito while away the hours? He gets up at 6:30 each morning, watches the news on television, and then goes for a walk with the Empress Michiko around the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo. If the weather is inclement, Akihito drives in his 15-year-old Honda Integra. Reportedly, he obeys all traffic laws even though the roads in the Imperial Compound are closed to other vehicles, and the Emperor is exempt.
The mid-day is filled with official business: greeting foreign ambassadors and royalty, handing out imperial awards, or performing his duties as a Shinto priest. If he has time, the Emperor works on his biological studies. He is a world-class expert on goby fish, and has published 38 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the topic.
Most evenings include official receptions and banquets. When the Imperial Couple retires at night, they enjoy watching nature programs on TV and reading Japanese magazines.
Like most royals, the Japanese Emperor and his family live an oddly isolated lifestyle. They have no need of cash, they never answer the telephone, and the Emperor and his wife eschew the internet. All of their houses, furnishings, etc. belong to the state, so the Imperial Couple do not have any personal belongings.
Some Japanese citizens feel that the Imperial Family has outlived its usefulness. Most, however, are still devoted to this shadowy remnant of the former god/kings.
The true role of the current emperor of Japan seems to be two-fold: to provide continuity and reassurance to the Japanese people, and to apologize to the citizens of neighboring countries for past Japanese atrocities. Emperor Akihito's mild manner, distinct lack of hauteur, and express contriteness for the past have gone some way toward repairing relations with such neighbors as China, South Korea, and the Philippines.