Mourners attend Empress Dowager’s funeral

About 1,000 people, including Imperial family members, government officials and foreign dignitaries, attended a Shinto-style funeral Tuesday for the late Empress Dowager at two locations in Tokyo, with the Emperor, her eldest son, as chief mourner.

Participants in the “Renso-no-gi” ceremony, held at the Toshimagaoka Imperial Cemetery in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward and the Musashino Imperial Mausoleum in Hachioji in the western suburbs of Tokyo, bid a final farewell to Emperor Showa’s widow, who died on June 16 at the age of 97.

In the morning, musicians from the Imperial Household Agency led a procession of mourners at the cemetery while performing ancient court music. They were followed by a hearse carrying the coffin. The Emperor, the Empress and other Imperial family members walked behind.

The Emperor was the first mourner to pay respects to the Empress Dowager, bowing and offering a tree branch to the altar in a Shinto gesture. He then gave a memorial address, saying, “In recalling past days when I was cherished by you, I now feel a great loneliness, and my heart is filled with affection for you.”

The 1,063 mourners included Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, other government representatives, and ambassadors from some 120 countries. Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was the only foreign mourner who traveled to Japan for the funeral, agency officials said.

The Crown Princess, wife of the Crown Prince, was absent from the funeral due to what the agency described as fatigue partly caused by the recent summer heat.

Mori said the Empress Dowager “shared all the joys and sorrows” with her husband and supported him for more than 60 years. About 12,000 people watched the coffin pass along the streets as it was carried from the Imperial Palace to the Toshimagaoka cemetery, about 6.6 km away, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Some 1,450 people also lined up at the cemetery.

After the service at the cemetery, the coffin was carried to the mausoleum in Hachioji, where Emperor Showa was buried after his death in 1989, and was placed inside a stone structure constructed as part of the 1,800-sq.-meter mausoleum.

In the evening, the Emperor was to give another eulogy at the mausoleum, and other Imperial family members and ordinary mourners were to pay their respects to the Empress Dowager, whose posthumous name is Empress Kojun.

Her mausoleum is being built next to the 2,500-sq.-meter mausoleum of her husband, and its construction is expected to take about a year and cost nearly 2 billion yen in taxpayer money.

Although the funeral was conducted as a private ceremony for the Imperial family and not a state ceremony, the government decided to use public funds for the funeral and the mausoleum, in response to a call by the Imperial Household Agency for a new appropriation to cover the costs.

The agency, in justifying the expenditure, said ceremonies to mourn the Empress Dowager have a public nature because she is an object of respect and mourning for the entire populace.

Part of the 1989 funeral for her husband was conducted as a state ceremony and without any religious affiliation, due to the constitutional separation of religion and politics.