Japan’s 126th emperor formally ascends throne

Updated October 23, 2019

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TOKYO: Emperor Naruhito delivers a speech (right) during his enthronement ceremony on Tuesday. Japanese officials shout (top left) cheers of banzai (10,000 years) for the emperor. Empress Masako is seen leaving after the end of the ceremony.—Agencies
TOKYO: Emperor Naruhito delivers a speech (right) during his enthronement ceremony on Tuesday. Japanese officials shout (top left) cheers of banzai (10,000 years) for the emperor. Empress Masako is seen leaving after the end of the ceremony.—Agencies

TOKYO: Three booming cheers of “Banzai!” rang out on Tuesday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as Naruhito formally declared his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne as the nation’s 126th emperor.

As a driving autumn rain briefly gave way to sunshine and 2,000 guests looked on, Naruhito pledged at an elaborate, ritual-laden ceremony to serve as a symbol of the state for his people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated him and led the cheers of “Banzai,” which traditionally means “10,000 years”.

The enthronement ceremony is the high point of several succession rituals that began in May when Naruhito inherited the throne after the abdication of Akihito, his father. Naruhito leads the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, which historians say goes back 1,500 years.

“I hereby proclaim my enthronement to those at home and abroad,” Naruhito said. “I hereby swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always praying for the happiness of the people and the peace of the world as I stand with the people.”

The ceremony began with the sound of a bell. Naruhito, wearing a formal brownish-orange robe that was dyed in sappanwood and Japanese wax tree bark and a black headdress decorated with an upright tail, then stood perfectly still while a pair of black-robed chamberlains pulled aside and secured the purple curtains surrounding the throne. The throne, called “Takamikura”, is a 21-foot-high decorative structure resembling a gazebo.

Outside the palace, hundreds of well-wishers gathered to celebrate the enthronement, waving flags and shouting “Banzai!” almost in sync with the ceremony that they monitored on their smartphones.

Despite the time, effort and cost put into preparations, the ceremony lasted only about 30 minutes. It was originally modeled after one by the ancient Tang dynasty of China and is the second of three ceremonies that follow the May succession.

To mark the occasion, Abe’s ultra-conservative government granted pardons to about 550,000 eligible applicants. The decision was not publicly debated.

The pre-war custom of clemency by the emperor, who was revered as a god in those days, has triggered criticism as being undemocratic and politically motivated. At the time of former Emperor Akihito’s enthronement, 2.5 million people were given amnesty.

Earlier on Tuesday, the 59-year-old Naruhito put on a white robe and prayed at Kashikodokoro and two other shrines, to report to gods ahead of the ceremony. Enshrined at Kashikodokoro is the sun goddess Amaterasu, the mythological ancestress of Japan’s emperors.

Recent changes to the enthronement ceremony included a slightly smaller structure for the empress called “Michodai” or “The August Seat of the Empress” where Naruhito’s wife, Masako, stood, dressed in traditional costume. It was first used by Naruhito’s grandmother.

Naruhito, who studied at Oxford, is a historian, a viola player and an expert on water transport. Masako has struggled for more than a decade since developing “adjustment disorder” after giving birth to the couple’s only child, Princess Aiko, and facing pressure to produce a boy in Japan’s monarchy, which allows only male heirs.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2019