National

Emperor Naruhito completes enthronement in ceremony rich with history and ritual

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Emperor Naruhito cut a grand figure Tuesday as the deep purple curtains of his canopied, 6.5-meter-tall throne were pulled apart to reveal him enrobed in an orange-brown garment, a black crown atop his head, as he announced his enthronement to the world.

“Having previously succeeded to the imperial throne in accordance with the Constitution of Japan and the Special Measures Law on the Imperial House Law, I now … proclaim my enthronement to those at home and abroad,” he declared at the enthronement ceremony, called Sokui no Rei, which was attended by around 2,000 dignitaries from some 180 countries and regions.

Sokui no Rei is one of the major events in a series of ceremonies and rites scheduled throughout the year following Emperor Naruhito’s accession to the chrysanthemum throne in May.

Although he officially became emperor on May 1, after his father — now Emperor Emeritus Akihito — stepped down from the throne due to his advanced age, Tuesday’s ceremony marks the official declaration of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement.

Emperor Naruhito proclaims his ascension to the chrysanthemum throne at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Emperor Naruhito proclaims his ascension to the chrysanthemum throne at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday. | POOL / VIA KYODO

“I pledge hereby that I shall 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 wishing for the happiness of the people and the peace of the world, turning my thoughts to the people and standing by them,” he said, underlining the emperor’s role within the country’s supreme law.

The ceremony saw the emperor and empress in regal attire entering the Pine Chamber of the Imperial Palace, as attending dignitaries watched by video link from within the Imperial Palace.

Big names such as Prince Charles from the United Kingdom, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao from the United States, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon were there to congratulate the new emperor.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako appear for the emperor's enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon. | KYODO
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako appear for the emperor’s enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon. | KYODO

Wearing imperial robes in a warm brown hue — a color reserved in times past especially for the emperor — Emperor Naruhito sat on the takamikura canopied throne, which is decorated with lacquer and gold phoenixes and sits atop a square dais.

His wife Empress Masako was in similarly regal attire, wearing a colorful and multilayered kimono, and sat on a smaller version of Emperor Naruhito’s throne.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered congratulations in response to the emperor’s speech, saying, “We, the people, look up to His Majesty the Emperor as the symbol of Japan and the unity of its people, and, with a renewed spirit, will put our best efforts into creating an era where new culture will flourish as a peaceful, hopeful and proud Japan realizes a bright future and the people come together in beautiful harmony.”

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako visit a shrine Tuesday morning prior to the emperor's enthronement later in the day. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako visit a shrine Tuesday morning prior to the emperor’s enthronement later in the day. | POOL / VIA KYODO

Initially, a parade had been planned for after the ceremony to allow the public to see the imperial couple drive by in a convertible sedan as they traveled back to their residence in the Akasaka district.

However, the government announced that they would reschedule the parade for Nov. 10 out of consideration for those affected by Typhoon Hagibis earlier in the month.

Celebrations were nevertheless set to continue for the guests in attendance, with the emperor and empress scheduled to host a total of four banquets, the first of which took place Tuesday evening.

Amid all the pomp and splendor, Tuesday’s ceremonies also highlighted the lack of male heirs to the throne.

As the current law stands, only male heirs of the male line of the family are permitted to succeed the throne.

Emperor Naruhito walks in a shrine at the imperial palace in Tokyo for a ritual Tuesday morning prior to proclaiming his enthronement later in the day. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Emperor Naruhito walks in a shrine at the imperial palace in Tokyo for a ritual Tuesday morning prior to proclaiming his enthronement later in the day. | POOL / VIA KYODO

In his daily news conference on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga touched on the need to debate the topic, but he did not offer much detail on how the government plans to push that debate forward.

“Our utmost priority right now is to ensure that the ceremonies pertaining to the current Emperor’s enthronement are carried out without any mishaps or issues,” he said.

The question of how to maintain the imperial family’s longevity will be discussed at length in the Diet after that, he added.

There is overwhelming support for changes to allow a woman to succeed the throne, with polls consistently indicating that over 70 percent of the public are in favor of seeing such developments.

Emperor Naruhito is driven to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday morning for his enthronement ceremony. | KYODO
Emperor Naruhito is driven to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday morning for his enthronement ceremony. | KYODO

In a survey conducted by public broadcaster NHK in late September, 74 percent of 1,539 respondents said that they would support having a woman ascend the throne, and 71 percent were willing to accept an heir from the maternal line of the family succeeding as emperor or empress.

However, the same survey showed that 52 percent of respondents also admitted to not being sure of the difference between a female heir and an heir from the maternal line.

There have been female emperors in the past, but conservatives generally believe that the throne itself has always been passed down the male line of the family. Those conservatives are not necessarily against the idea of having a female emperor on the throne temporarily, as long as the throne is passed down to a male heir eventually.

Some experts hope that the string of ceremonies and the resulting media attention will help push forward debate on the role the imperial family should play in society.

Empress Masako arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday morning for the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. | REUTERS
Empress Masako arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Tuesday morning for the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. | REUTERS

In celebration of the new emperor’s enthronement, the government also granted pardons to some 550,000 people on Tuesday.

Most of them are those who were found guilty and fined for minor infractions at least three years ago. The amnesty is limited to removing a temporary prohibition on violators qualifying for national professional licenses and restoring their civil rights.

The number of individuals is still considerably smaller than previous occasions when pardons were issued. When Emperor Emeritus Akihito conducted the Sokui no Rei in November 1990, some 2.5 million were pardoned. About 4,300 of those pardoned were those who had received penalties for election violations, leading to criticism that the pardons were political in intent.

The shrinking number is said to reflect the government’s shift of focus from the rehabilitation of criminals to the consideration of victims.

In a survey conducted by Jiji Press news agency in September, some 54.2 percent of respondents were against the tradition of pardoning people, while about 20.5 percent were in favor. Those who weren’t sure amounted to 25.3 percent. The survey was based on interviews with 2,000 individuals, of which 62.3 percent provided valid responses.

Self-Defense Forces troops prepare to fire ceremonial artillery during a proclamation ceremony marking Emperor Naruhito's ascension to the throne, at a park in Tokyo on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI
Self-Defense Forces troops prepare to fire ceremonial artillery during a proclamation ceremony marking Emperor Naruhito’s ascension to the throne, at a park in Tokyo on Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI