Japan's crown prince hopes to continue father's legacy

In this Feb. 17, 2019, photo provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan, Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako pose for a photo at their residence Togu Palace in Tokyo. Naruhito celebrates his 59th birthday on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. (AP)
Updated 23 February 2019
0

Japan's crown prince hopes to continue father's legacy

  • The Japanese throne is only inherited by male heirs, and Naruhito's only child is a daughter. Prince Akishino and his young son Hisahito are next in the line of succession after Naruhito

TOKYO: Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito says he hopes to continue the close relationship his father built with the people when he succeeds him as emperor later this year.
Naruhito, who turns 59 on Saturday, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 after Emperor Akihito abdicates.
"I feel very solemn when I think about the future," he said at an annual pre-birthday news conference Thursday. His remarks were embargoed from publication until Saturday.
"While I continue to prepare for this role, I would like to maintain the past emperors' work. I would like to think about the people and pray for the people," he said.
His wife, Masako will also assume a new role as empress. The former diplomat has suffered from stress and has often skipped public events, and it's unclear how she will manage her new role as empress.
"Although Masako is steadily recovering, her condition still fluctuates. I would like Masako to continue to slowly widen her contribution in her role," Naruhito said, adding he hopes to support his wife just as she has supported him.
Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, and his family are also expected to play a major role. The Japanese throne is only inherited by male heirs, and Naruhito's only child is a daughter. Prince Akishino and his young son Hisahito are next in the line of succession after Naruhito.
Akihito's desire to leave the throne revived a debate about the country's 2,000-year-old monarchy, one of the world's oldest, as well as discussion about improving the status of female members of the shrinking royal population.
"This problem will relate to the imperial family of the future. I would like to refrain from giving any opinions on the system," the crown prince said.
Those who are concerned about the future of the royal family with shrinking membership want to allow women to ascend the throne and others to keep their royal status so they can keep performing public duties, but a government panel has avoided the divisive issue.
Even before the 1947 Imperial Law, reigning empresses were rare, usually serving as stand-ins for a few years until a suitable male can be installed. The last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who assumed the throne in 1763.
Debate over the succession law, however, is emotional. Some conservatives proposed a revival of concubines to produce imperial heirs, and others argued that allowing a woman on the throne would destroy a precious Japanese tradition.


The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

Syrian businessman Ali Shami arranges olive soap bars in a factory on the outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019
0

The scent of soap making returns to Aleppo

  • Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year

ALEPPO: After years of war, the scent of laurel oil once again wafts from a small soap workshop in Aleppo, signaling the revival of a landmark trade in the battered northern city.
Surrounding soap workshops in the Al-Nayrab district still lie in ruins, badly damaged in the four-year battle for the former opposition stronghold. But for Ali Shami, hanging up his apron was not an option.
“I never stopped making soap throughout the war — even if it was just a little,” says the 44-year-old, who fled his home city during the fighting.
“But this workshop is special,” he tells AFP. “It was here that I started more than 30 years ago.”
Shami reopened his soap workshop last month after shutting it down in 2012, when Syria’s second city became a main front in the eight-year-long conflict.
The scars of war are still visible on the building, its walls punctured with holes caused by shelling. Rushes of wind gust through the gaps.
Shami carried out limited renovations — just enough to produce more than half of his pre-war output of around 800 tons a year.
He installed a new metal door and refurbished the main rooms where the soap mixture is heated and then poured out to dry.
He watches as five workers stir a thick mixture of olive and laurel oil in a large vat.
Beside them, another five workers slice cooled and hardened green paste into cubes and stack them in staggered racks.
Shami says he was able to resume operations quickly because Aleppo soap is handmade.
Its production “relies on manual labor, a successful mixture, the passion of Aleppo’s residents, and their love of the profession,” he says.
After closing down in 2012, Shami tried to continue his work in other major Syrian cities. “My existence is tied to the existence” of soap, he says.
He moved to the capital, Damascus, and the regime-held coastal city of Tartous, but Shami says the soap was not as good.
“Aleppo’s climate is very suitable for soap production and the people of Aleppo know the secret of the trade and how to endure the hardship of the many stages of its production,” he says.
Shami, who inherited the soap business from his father and grandfather, boasts about the superior qualities of Aleppo soap, the oldest of its kind in the world.
“Aleppo soap distinguishes itself from other soaps around the world as it is made almost entirely of olive oil,” he says.
“European soap, on the other hand, includes animal fats, while soaps made in Asia are mixed with vegetal oils but not olive oil,” he says.
The Aleppo region is well-known for its olive oil and sweet bay oil, or laurel.
Shami says the Aleppo soap industry was hit hard by the fierce clashes that rocked his home city, before ending in late 2016 when the army took back opposition districts with Russian military support.
While conditions are less dangerous today, soap producers still grapple with shortages of raw material and skilled labor, he says.
“We are struggling with the aftermath of the battles,” he says.
Dozens of soap producers are still waiting to complete renovations before reopening their workshops. Hisham Gebeily is one of them.
His soap-making center in the Old City of Aleppo, named after the family, has survived for generations, dating back to the 18th century.
The three-story stone workshop covers a space of around 9,000 square meters, and is considered among the largest in the city.
But the 50-year-old man was forced to close it in 2012.
The structure still stands, although damaged by the fighting: Parts of it have been charred by shelling and wooden beams supporting the roof are starting to fall apart.
“Before the conflict, the city of Aleppo housed around 100 soap factories,” he says.