The government decided Friday to stage a ceremony in October next year to mark Crown Prince Naruhito’s accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, but said female members of the Imperial family will not attend one of the key enthronement rituals.
The enthronement ceremony will be held on Oct. 22, 2019, as a state occasion, after the Crown Prince, 58, takes the throne on May 1 that year, the day after Emperor Akihito abdicates, according to the government’s basic plan on Imperial succession rites.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said only male members of the Imperial family will attend the key ritual on May 1 in which the new emperor inherits the traditional regalia. The same custom was followed in the previous succession ritual in 1989.
The Imperial family has traditionally only allowed male members to attend this ritual because the Imperial House Law stipulates that only males can ascend the throne, government sources said. Critics say that excluding female members is out of touch with the times.
On the other hand, the government might let female Cabinet ministers, if any, participate in the rite on the grounds that they are unrelated to Imperial succession and would be mere observers, the sources said.
During the key ritual, the new emperor will inherit regalia including the sacred sword and jewels as proof of accession to the throne. When Emperor Akihito took the throne in January 1989 after the death of Emperor Hirohito, his father, the attendants — comprising members of the Imperial family and top government officials — were all male.
Suga also said the Imperial Household Agency is considering holding the Daijosai (Grand Thanksgiving rite) from Nov. 14 to 15. During the event — the most important imperial ritual following his enthronement — the new emperor will eat rice harvested during the year in appreciation of Japan’s bounty of grain.
For Prince Akishino, the younger son of the 84-year-old Emperor, the government has decided to hold a ritual in 2020 to commemorate his rise to koshi, the title given to the first in line to the throne. The date has not been set.
“The Cabinet will come together to make preparations so that the abdication and succession can be completed smoothly,” Suga said at a news conference.
The top government spokesman said a new committee will be set up in the fall to work out the specific details of each rite. The basic plan on succession events will be officially endorsed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next Tuesday, he added.
But Suga declined to elaborate on another contentious point: whether minor members of the Imperial family, specifically the Emperor’s 11-year-old grandson, Prince Hisahito, will be able to join in the events. It has been customary for minors not to attend the succession rites.
Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Akishino, 52, will be second in line to the throne after the abdication of Emperor Akihito. Suga said the envisioned preparation panel will “properly judge” the matter.
Ahead of the abdication, which will be Japan’s first in more than two centuries, the government will stage a ceremony to mark Emperor Akihito’s 30 years on the throne on Feb. 24 in Tokyo’s National Theater. The abdication will bring the Heisei Era to an end in its 31st year.
The abdication ceremony on April 30, 2019, will be treated as a state occasion, so the Emperor will meet with the prime minister, Diet leaders and others representing the Japanese people in the Imperial Palace.
Foreign dignitaries and envoys are expected to attend the incoming emperor’s enthronement ceremony, which will be followed by a parade and banquet.
Later that autumn, on Oct. 23, the prime minister is set to host a dinner party in Tokyo to express Japan’s gratitude for the foreign guests’ attendance at the celebratory events.
The outgoing Emperor, who has undergone heart surgery and treatment for prostate cancer, hinted at his wish to retire in a rare video message that was aired in August 2016. In the video, he cited concerns about his advanced age and weakening health and the possibility that they could prevent him from fulfilling his duties.
The Diet enacted a one-off law last June enabling him to step down while alive. The special law was needed because the Imperial House Law lacks a provision on abdications, which means an emperor can only retire upon death.
Crown Prince Naruhito is set to become the 126th emperor in the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. The monarchy is believed to date back more than 2,600 years, including legendary figures whose existence is disputed.