TOKYO -- The low-key reaction of the Japanese people to the death of Emperor Hirohito demonstrates that modern Japan has eradicated the type of emperor worship that inspired a generation to fight World War II.
In 1945, the Japanese were willing to sacrifice their lives for the monarch.
In 1989, few were willing to sacrifice their weekend television watching to pay tribute to his death.
For the imperial family, the intense mourning period for Hirohito will end Wednesday, 10 days after his death from intestinal cancer.
Though hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside the imperial palace to pay tribute after his death, most of them were elderly. A common reaction among other Japanese was indifference.
'A person died and that is sad,' said a 42-year-old Tokyo housewife. 'But it meant nothing more than that to me.'
When commercial television stations dropped their regular programs during two days of tributes to Hirohito, many Japanese rushed to video rental shops for movies.
At some point in the past 43 years, the Japanese have lost the fanatical obedience to the emperor that created the Kamikaze pilots of World War II, the suicide dive bombers who gave their lives for Hirohito.
Japan's acceptance of democracy and its postwar rush to imitate anything American left little room for worship of monarchs.
The Japanese once baffled Americans who could not comprehend such devotion and obedience to the emperor. That divide has been substantially narrowed.
Living for the monarch has been replaced by living for oneself or for one's family. Financial security and material wealth motivate today's Japanese, a trait they share with many Americans.
In a Kyodo news agency survey of young adults from 11 countries, Japanese youth registered the highest percentage who said that getting rich is the most important goal in life.
This evolutionary change is fiercely resisted by right-wing extremists in Japan, who have fought to keep emperor worship as vital as it was during the war.
'Japanese would go without rice if necessary to support the emperor and the imperial family,' said Shizuka Kamei, a right-wing member of the Diet, or parliament, from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
But with the entrance of Emperor Akihito, Hirohito's liberal son, conservatives will be hard pressed to create a sense of reverence for a man who does not want it.
Akihito, 55, supports a reduced role for the monarch.
Akihito reportedly opposed former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone's drive to increase defense spending, a key issue for the right wing, and he has dispensed with the practice of having a palace aide taste his meals to ensure that they have not been poisoned.
In answering questions from Japanese reporters, Akihito revealed more about himself than was ever made known about Hirohito. Among other disclosures, the new emperor said he owns only 10 suits.
Monarch worship thrives on mystique, which Hirohito fostered by spending most of his life hidden from public view.
Akihito, however, is determined to be different.
Perhaps he knows that it is difficult to worship someone who owns fewer suits than many men his age.