As Emperor Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday, people on the streets of Japan expressed hope that the new emperor will continue the legacy shaped by his father and that the new era would maintain the peace seen during the Heisei Era.

Hundreds of people — including families, tourists and journalists, both foreign and domestic — descended on the plaza outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday morning. Masayo Kanagawa, a 57-year-old office worker from Tokyo, was outside the palace with her relative Rie Kanagawa. They said they were visiting the palace to celebrate “a critical juncture” in history.

Kanagawa said she was happy to see a swearing-in of a new emperor that is not due to the death of the previous monarch, adding that she hopes to see Emperor Naruhito play an active role for the people and the country.

“I am hoping that the new emperor will think with the viewpoint of citizens in mind,” she said. “The emperor emeritus has already created a model of what an emperor is supposed to be, so I hope the new emperor will continue to build upon that.”

Tomas Crivelli, a 35-year-old tourist from Argentina, learned about the ascension from a newspaper a few days ago. Along with his wife, Crivelli said they were happy to be in Japan to witness the historical moment and to see the country celebrating it. “Maybe in the future I would say to my child that I was here (on this day),” he said.

Eri Yoshida, a 22-year-old office worker from Osaka who recently graduated from college, was visiting Tokyo with her friends — taking advantage of the 10-day Golden Week holiday. She said she feels both expectation and anxiety when thinking about the future. But she added that upon her visit to the palace on Wednesday, the first day of the Reiwa Era, she renewed her resolution to work hard as an adult.

Mika Takahashi, right, and her sister Mayumi show off the special edition goshuin celebrating the new era at Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine  in Tokyo
Mika Takahashi, right, and her sister Mayumi show off the special edition goshuin celebrating the new era at Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine  in Tokyo’s Sendagaya district. | MASUMI KOIZUMI

At the Hatonomori Hachiman shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, visitors lined up shortly before 10 a.m. to collect a special edition goshuin seal stamp and calligraphy with the date of their visit, to celebrate the new era. Mika Takahashi, 37, and her younger sister Mayumi, 33, brought their goshuincho books for collecting goshuin, each of which are unique to shrines or temples, to obtain the memorabilia.

The sisters said their original plan was to receive a goshuin at nearby Meiji Jingu shrine on the last day of Heisei and the first day of Reiwa, but that they gave up on the second step because the site was too crowded.

Mayumi Takahashi, who works in finance, said the duo from Chiba Prefecture visited the shrine because its name contains “hato,” meaning “dove,” which symbolizes peace, “in the hope that peace continues into Reiwa.”

Asked their views on the new imperial couple, Mika Takahashi, who works for a publisher, said, “I want the couple to get along well, stay healthy and be close to the public.”

“Many people in disaster-hit areas said visits made by the Heisei emperor had encouraged them, so I want the new emperor to keep up such activities and continue being the people’s hope,” she added.

Regarding the imperial family, Mika Takahashi said: “I hope they maintain a presence close to the public, as well as their traditions.” She noted, however, the need to adjust the imperial family system to match the current times.

Mami Sakano of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, who was also visiting the shrine, said the difficulty of conducting the duties of the emperor, as the symbol of the state, must be “beyond our imagination.”

“I want (the couple) to do activities that will brighten our society, such as tours to rural areas,” said the 38-year-old. She also expressed her wish that discussions on allowing a female emperor or an emperor of female lineage to ascend to the throne can advance without putting too much pressure on the imperial family.

In the ancient capital of Kyoto, where the imperial family resided from 794 to 1869, a steady drizzle didn’t deter domestic and overseas tourists from the city’s major tourist sites. For many Kyoto residents, however, the main hope for the new era was that it would be more or less the same as the old one.

“We really hope that the Reiwa Era will be one of continued peace and prosperity,” said Hiroyuki Tani, 74.

Others noted the new emperor’s deep interest in water conservation issues, although constitutional limitations mean that he will not press the government on this particular issue.

While some in Kyoto, including the mayor, have suggested members of the imperial family might eventually move to Kyoto in the future under a new emperor, others see this possibility as remote. “But, hopefully, the new emperor will visit Kyoto more often,” said Yoshihiro Uchibori, 82, a Kyoto resident.

The Shimizu family poses for a photo Wednesday inside the State Guest House Akasaka Palace in Tokyo.
The Shimizu family poses for a photo Wednesday inside the State Guest House Akasaka Palace in Tokyo. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

To commemorate the new era, the State Guest House Akasaka Palace in Tokyo and its garden cafe in the front courtyard are open throughout the Golden Week holiday, which runs through Monday. The palace was built in 1909 as a provisional residence for the crown prince and the imperial family, and later repurposed in 1974 as a guest house for foreign dignitaries.

The Shimizu family — comprising a mother, father and two sons age 4 and 7 years old — was visiting the palace Wednesday for the first time. In April, the family saw Emperor Emeritus Akihito as he was traveling to Hachioji in western Tokyo to visit the tomb of his father, Emperor Showa. The Shimizus waited in front of Tokyo Station on the day to try and catch a glimpse of the then-imperial couple on their way to and from the trip. “They came within a few meters of us,” said the father, who preferred not to use his first name. “We figured it would be our last chance to see them before the abdication. We wanted our children to see them up close, and they did.”

“Empress Michiko even waved at our sons,” the mother added proudly.

The parents, trying to keep their sons under control in the Heavenly Robe Hall of the Palace on Wednesday, said the Reiwa Era comes amid an age of technology and information, when people need to be careful where they get their news and seek the truth.

They also said Japan is becoming a more globalized country — and that while this may concern some, being able to share culture with other countries is an “undeniably good thing.”

“The new emperor has never known war,” the mother said. “Our relationship with the rest of the world is going to change during the Reiwa Era. Hopefully for the better.”

Ryusei Takahashi contributed to this report.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.