Emperor Naruhito officially declared his enthronement to world representatives on Tuesday in a ceremony that was conducted amid relative peace and calm.
The last time the event was held, three decades ago, extremists fighting against the imperial system carried out multiple terror attacks.
About 2,000 guests from home and abroad attended Tuesday’s ceremony, and some 26,000 police officers were mobilized from across Japan — stepping up security checks and traffic controls around the Imperial Palace and other parts of central Tokyo. An anti-terrorist squad was also deployed to keep watch for threats such as drones in the sky.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been no reports of major incidents or obstruction. At least one rally against the enthronement ceremony was held inside a building near JR Shinbashi Station shortly after 1 p.m., when the ceremony was being held at the Imperial Palace.
A protester addressed the crowd: “Right now, a Shinto ritual is being performed as a national event, which we see as absurd. “We want to raise our voice in protest against that,” she added.
Shortly before 6 a.m., in an apparent accident, a trailer loaded with six used cars caught fire and gave off black smoke inside a Metropolitan Expressway tunnel near the Imperial Palace, according to public broadcaster NHK.
No injuries were reported. A Metropolitan Police Department official was quoted as saying that the driver in his 40s told police “the fire started after a tire went flat.” Police ruled out a terrorist attack.
Tuesday was legally designated as a one-off national holiday. Still, the postponement of a parade between the Imperial Palace and the imperial couple’s residence in Akasaka that had been set to follow the enthronement ceremony, coupled with the rainy weather, held down the number of well-wishers near the palace grounds.
A 55-year-old history book writer standing on a roadside near the Imperial Palace just before the ceremony began, who also visited the site for the previous enthronement, remarked on the difference between the two occasions.
“The cityscape seen from the palace has changed,” he said. When the previous ceremony was held in 1990, there was a celebratory mood, recalled the man. At the same time, “It didn’t feel like the Showa Era had ended back then,” he added.
When Emperor Naruhito’s father proclaimed his enthronement before about 2,200 guests from home and abroad on Nov. 12, 1990, tensions were higher, however.
From that morning, a spate of violence by radicals opposing the ceremony gripped Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, according to media reports at that time. Some mortars were fired toward the Imperial Palace, and others into Self-Defense Forces bases, and fires sparked by timed incendiary devices destroyed parts of shrines. A separate blaze led to the suspension of train services on the Yamanote and Keihin Tohoku lines, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.
According to a National Police Agency report filed at the time, there were 40 terror attacks in six prefectures, including 34 in Tokyo that day alone, despite the largest deployment of security forces, mostly around the imperial properties.
Thousands of protesters joined demonstrations and rallies across Tokyo to call for “crushing the enthronement ritual,” according to the media reports. The movement was part of a long-running extreme left-wing campaign against the establishment.
Notwithstanding the turmoil, then-Emperor Akihito’s ceremony was performed in line with the traditional protocol without interruption. In the subsequent parade, the imperial couple rode in a Rolls-Royce convertible and greeted 120,000 or so people gathered along a 5-kilometer route. An Asahi Shimbun article on Nov. 13, 1990, describes the befuddlement of spectators at the heavy police presence and rigorous checks.
“At the exit of Sakuradamon subway station near the Metropolitan Police Department, a policewoman standing atop a riot police command vehicle told people, ‘We will take your hand baggage under our care, except handbags and pouches,'” the article said.
“About 30 items such as golf bags and strollers were taken away to be stored in a police transport vehicle. People who were exiting the station into the street were frisked one after another, with some saying ‘the checks are strict’ and ‘it can’t be helped.'”
The paper also quoted one spectator from the U.S. as saying that the number of police officers along the parade route seemed larger than that of the audience.
Emperor Akihito’s ceremony came about two years after his ascension to the throne, as the nation had gone into mourning after the death of his predecessor, Emperor Hirohito, who is posthumously known as Emperor Showa. Police had remained on alert throughout the period leading up to Akihito’s enthronement ceremony.
The enthronement ceremony for Emperor Naruhito on Tuesday was held roughly six months after he succeeded his abdicating father, now Emperor Emeritus Akihito, on May 1.
There was another difference in the level of precaution ahead of Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony.
For the 1990 ceremony, the takamikura throne — from which the emperor proclaims his enthronement — was secretly transported from Kyoto’s former imperial residence to the Imperial Palace via SDF helicopter, to avoid attacks by extremists. This time, however, it was carried to the palace by truck.