Japan’s Naruhito proclaims enthronement in centuries-old ceremony

Tuesday’s elaborate ritual at the palace attended by 2,000 guests was toned down in the wake of deadly Typhoon Hagibis.

Emperor Naruhito
Naruhito, the first Japanese emperor born after World War II, ascended to the throne following his father's abdication [Kazuhiro Nogi/Reuters]

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascendancy to the throne on Tuesday in a centuries-old ceremony attended by dignitaries from more than 190 countries, pledging to fulfil his duty as a symbol of the state.

Naruhito became emperor in May in a brief ceremony but Tuesday’s “Sokui no Rei” was a more elaborate ritual at the royal palace in which he officially announced his change in status to the world.

“I swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfil my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” the 59-year-old declared, his voice slightly hoarse, in front of about 2,000 participants, including royals and heads of state from around the world.

“I sincerely hope that Japan will develop further and contribute to the friendship and peace of the international community, and to the welfare and prosperity of human beings through the people’s wisdom and ceaseless efforts,” Naruhito said.

To mark the event, the emperor pardoned about 550,000 people convicted of pretty crimes such as traffic violations and electoral fraud.

The first Japanese emperor born after World War II, Naruhito acceded to the throne when his father, Akihito, became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in two centuries after worrying that advancing age might make it hard for him to perform his official duties.

The long-planned celebrations were tempered by Typhoon Hagibis, which killed at least 80 people when it tore through Japan 10 days ago.

A public parade was postponed until next month to allow the government to devote its attention to the typhoon clean-up, while heavy rain on Tuesday forced the palace to scale back the number of courtiers in ancient robes taking part in the courtyard ceremony although the skies cleared as it began.

Naruhito began the day’s ceremonies by reporting his enthronement to his imperial ancestors at one of three shrines on the palace grounds, dressed in a black headdress and pure white robes with a long train borne by an attendant.

Entronement - Japan
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, left, delivers his speech as Empress Masako, second from left, and other Japanese officials attend the enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday [Kazuhiro Nogi/AP]

He was followed later by Empress Masako, 55, his Harvard-educated wife, dressed in 12-layered white robes and attended by two women in violet robes to arrange her train.

Tradition-bound ceremony

For the main ceremony in the Matsu-no-Ma, or Hall of Pine, the most prestigious room in the palace, Naruhito wore a traditional burnt-orange robe and headdress.

He declared his enthronement from the “Takamikura” – a 6.5-metre (21 feet) high pavilion that weighs about 8 tonnes – with an ancient sword and a jewel, two of the so-called Three Sacred Treasures, placed beside him.

Together with a mirror called Yata-no-Kagami, which is kept at the Ise Grand Shrine, the holiest site in Japan’s Shinto religion, the three treasures comprise the regalia that symbolises the legitimacy of the emperor.

Masako, wearing a wig styled into an elaborate traditional up-do, also took part, sitting on a smaller throne.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a congratulatory speech before guests, including the UK’s Prince Charles, who with then-wife Diana had attended Akihito’s enthronement, as well as Myanmar‘s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

Abe then led the assembled dignitaries in giving three “banzai” cheers for the emperor.

Imperial family future

A court banquet is due to be held on Tuesday evening, before Naruhito and Masako host a tea party for foreign royalty on Wednesday afternoon.

Tokyo, Japan
Well-wishers gather outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to greet the new emperor [Jae C Hong/AP]

While the public parade was postponed until November 10, Japan’s national broadcaster NHK said there were 26,000 police providing security on Tuesday.

Naruhito is unusual among recent Japanese emperors since his only child, 17-year-old Aiko, is female and as such cannot inherit the throne.

The future of the imperial family for coming generations rests instead on the shoulders of his nephew, 13-year-old Hisahito, who is second in line for the throne after his father, Prince Akishino.

Naruhito’s grandfather, Hirohito, in whose name Japanese troops fought World War II, was treated as a God but renounced his divine status after Japan’s defeat in 1945. Emperors now have no political authority.

Though many Japanese welcomed the enthronement ceremony, some shrugged it off as a nuisance.

“There is no need for such an elaborate ceremony. Traffic has been restricted and it is causing inconvenience for ordinary people,” said Yoshikazu Arai, 74, a retired surgeon.

“The emperor is necessary now as a symbol of the people, but at some point, the emperor will no longer be necessary. Things will be just fine without an emperor.”

Japan Hisahito
Prince Hisahito, centre, with his father Crown Prince Akishino, left, and his mother Crown Princess Kiko strolling around paddy fields in Bhutan; Prince Hisahito is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Akishino; he turned 13 last month [File: Imperial Household Agency of Japan via Reuters]
Source: News Agencies