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Japan enthroned new Emperor Naruhito in centuries-old ceremony in front of royalty including Prince Charles and Spain’s Queen Letizia

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Japanese Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascendancy to the throne on Tuesday in a centuries-old ceremony attended by dignitaries from more than 180 countries, pledging to fulfil his duty as a symbol of the state.

Naruhito became emperor and his wife Masako became empress on May 1 in a brief ceremony, but Tuesday’s ‘Sokui no Rei’ was a more elaborate ritual at the royal palace in which he officially announced his change in status to the world.

‘I swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfil my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,’ the 59-year-old declared, his voice slightly hoarse, in front of about 2,000 guests, including Britain’s Prince Charles.

Japanese Emperor Naruhito formally ascended to the throne on Tuesday in a centuries-old ceremony inside the Pine Room at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Japanese Emperor Naruhito formally ascended to the throne on Tuesday in a centuries-old ceremony inside the Pine Room at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Naruhito read a short speech confirming his enthronement in which he swore to uphold Japan's constitution, fulfil his role as a symbol of the state, and unite the country's 127million people
Naruhito read a short speech confirming his enthronement in which he swore to uphold Japan’s constitution, fulfil his role as a symbol of the state, and unite the country’s 127million people
Empress Masako
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Empress Masako
Standing alongside the new Emperor during the ceremony was his wife, Empress Masako, who rarely takes part in royal ceremonies amid concerns for her health
Emperor Naruhito (left) stands inside the ornate Takamikura throne roome and Empress Masako (right) stands inside the smaller Michodai during the ceremony
Emperor Naruhito (left) stands inside the ornate Takamikura throne roome and Empress Masako (right) stands inside the smaller Michodai during the ceremony
Britain's Prince Charles arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo amid heavy rain caused by Typhoon Hagibis, which caused a large parade which was due to mark the ascension to be delayed until next month
Britain’s Prince Charles arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo amid heavy rain caused by Typhoon Hagibis, which caused a large parade which was due to mark the ascension to be delayed until next month
Britain's Prince Charles chatting with Denmark's Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik while attending the enthronement ceremony where Japan's Emperor Naruhito officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne
Britain’s Prince Charles chatting with Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik while attending the enthronement ceremony where Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (front row left) and his daughter Crown Princess Victoria (front row second left), Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni (second row left), Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (second row fourth from left) and Queen Jetsun Pema (second row third from left) attending the enthronement ceremony
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (front row left) and his daughter Crown Princess Victoria (front row second left), Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni (second row left), Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (second row fourth from left) and Queen Jetsun Pema (second row third from left) attending the enthronement ceremony
Belgium's King Philippe (centre right) and Queen Mathilde (centre left) attending the enthronement ceremony where Japan's Emperor Naruhito officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne
Belgium’s King Philippe (centre right) and Queen Mathilde (centre left) attending the enthronement ceremony where Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne
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Prince Charles stands next to Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
Prince Charles stands next to Crown Princess Mary of Denmark (left) as the ceremony takes place
King Felipe VI of Spain (left) and his wife Queen Letizia
 Queen Letizia of Spain and her husband King Felipe VI (right) also look on
Japan's Crown Prince Akishino (right), Naruhito's brother, and his wife Crown Princess Kiko (second right) arrive at the Imperial Palace along with their relatives ahead of Tuesday's ceremony
Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino (right), Naruhito’s brother, and his wife Crown Princess Kiko (second right) arrive at the Imperial Palace along with their relatives ahead of Tuesday’s ceremony
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to 'do our utmost to create a peaceful, bright future full of hope for Japan' on behalf of the government as he attended the ceremony
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to ‘do our utmost to create a peaceful, bright future full of hope for Japan’ on behalf of the government as he attended the ceremony
Shinzo Abe raises his hands above his head while shouting 'banzai', which literally translates as '10,000 years of life' but means something similar to 'long live the Emperor'
Shinzo Abe raises his hands above his head while shouting ‘banzai’, which literally translates as ‘10,000 years of life’ but means something similar to ‘long live the Emperor’
Courtesans and officials raise their arms with chants of 'banzai' during a ceremony inside the Room of Pine at Tokyo's Imperial Palace to mark Naruhito's official ascension to the throne
Courtesans and officials raise their arms with chants of ‘banzai’ during a ceremony inside the Room of Pine at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to mark Naruhito’s official ascension to the throne
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The challenges facing Japan’s new emperor and empress

Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito begins his reign facing the delicate task of balancing modernity with the traditions of the world’s oldest monarchy, including protecting his family from the palace’s rigid rules.

The 59-year-old has been critical about the sometimes stifling lifestyle imposed on royals, after it was revealed wife Masako has been receiving treatment for ‘adjustment disorder’ almost their entire marriage.

He also has to navigate the world of politics, after using his first speech to warn of the need to remember World War II ‘correctly’ without glossing over Japan’s militarism, in what many saw as a criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalist agenda. 

Naruhito has, in the past, promised to ‘protect [Masako] at any cost’ as she made the transition from the daughter of a diplomat to a royal, as she explained that she abandoned her career to ‘make myself useful in this new path’.

But she struggled to adjust to cloistered royal life, punctuated only by occasional and highly choreographed public appearances.

She also came under enormous pressure to bear a son because Japan’s imperial succession excludes women. This scrutiny only intensified after she gave birth to Princess Aiko in 2001 – the couple’s only child. 

The pressure on Masako eased somewhat when her sister-in-law gave birth in 2006 to a son, the now 13-year-old Prince Hisahito.

She appeared confident during Naruhito’s enthronement in May and at ease when the royal couple welcomed US President Donald Trump as the first foreign leader to greet the new emperor. 

Naruhito and Masako are expected to pursue the role of comforters-in-chief crafted by the previous emperor and empress, who won public support for meeting with victims of natural disasters.

The royal couple have expressed their ‘heartache’ over typhoon Hagibis, which killed dozens of people. 

‘I sincerely hope that Japan will develop further and contribute to the friendship and peace of the international community, and to the welfare and prosperity of human beings through the people’s wisdom and ceaseless efforts.’

The first Japanese emperor born after World War Two, Naruhito acceded to the throne when his father, Akihito, became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in two centuries after worrying that advancing age might make it hard to perform official duties.

The long-planned celebrations, for which Japan declared a national holiday, were tempered by Typhoon Hagibis, which killed at least 82 people when it tore through Japan 10 days ago, and pouring rain early on Tuesday.

A public parade was postponed until next month to allow the government to devote its attention to the typhoon clean-up, while Tuesday’s inclement weather forced the palace to scale back the number of courtiers in ancient robes taking part in the courtyard ceremony although the skies cleared as it began. 

At the sound of a gong in the Matsu-no-Ma, or Hall of Pine, the most prestigious room in the palace, two courtiers bowed deeply and drew back purple curtains on the ‘Takamikura’ – a 6.5-metre (21 feet) high pavilion that weighs about 8 tonnes.

Naruhito was revealed standing in front of a simple throne, dressed in burnt-orange robes and a black headdress, with an ancient sword and a boxed jewel, two of the so-called Three Sacred Treasures, placed beside him.

Fifty-five-year-old Harvard-educated Empress Masako, wearing heavy 12-layered robes and with hair flowing down her back, stood in front of a smaller throne to the side. Such traditional robes can weigh around 15 kilogrammes (33 pounds).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a congratulatory speech before assembled dignitaries including Crown Prince Akishino, the emperor’s younger brother, and his family, all adorned in brightly-coloured robes. Other guests included U.S. Transport Secretary Elaine Chao and Myanmar civilan leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Fumihito, Naruhito's brother and officially known as Japanese Crown Prince Akishino (in orange), leaves the ceremony hall after the rituals have taken place
Fumihito, Naruhito’s brother and officially known as Japanese Crown Prince Akishino (in orange), leaves the ceremony hall after the rituals have taken place
Akishino's wife, Kiko, officially known as Crown Princess Akishino, follows him out of the ceremony hall
Akishino’s wife, Kiko, officially known as Crown Princess Akishino, follows him out of the ceremony hall
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia (right) watch the enthronement ceremony alongside Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (centre), the Emir of Qatar
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia (right) watch the enthronement ceremony alongside Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (centre), the Emir of Qatar
ormer French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony
ormer French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony
Duke Henri of Luxembourg arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Japan's Emperor Naruhito
Duke Henri of Luxembourg arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito
Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, left, and Crown Princess Victoria, right, arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the ceremony
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, left, and Crown Princess Victoria, right, arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the ceremony
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium (left)
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, and his wife, Naraporn Chan-ocha
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, and his wife, Naraporn Chan-ocha (right) were among the 2,000 guests 
Rodrigo Duterte (left), the President of the Philippines, arrives to watch the ceremony along with daughter Sara
Rodrigo Duterte (left), the President of the Philippines, arrives to watch the ceremony along with daughter Sara
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro was among dignitaries from 180 countries invited to watch the ceremony
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was among dignitaries from 180 countries invited to watch the ceremony
Japan's Emperor Naruhito departs the Imperial Palace after his enthronement ceremony
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito departs the Imperial Palace after his enthronement ceremony
Britain's Prince Charles visits the Nezu Museum and Gardens as part of a Royal Tour of Japan ahead of the ceremony
Britain’s Prince Charles visits the Nezu Museum and Gardens as part of a Royal Tour of Japan ahead of the ceremony

Abe led a trio of cheers of ‘banzai’, or ‘long life’, for the emperor, before a 21-gun salute.

A royally good guest-list 

Royal figures attending the ceremony included:

  • Prince Charles, UK 
  • King Felipe IV and Queen Letizia, Spain
  • King Phillppe and Queen Mathilde, Belgium
  • Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary, Denmark
  • Grand Duke Henri, Luxembourg
  • King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima, Netherlands
  • Crown Prince Hakkon, Norway
  • King Carl XVI Gustaf and Crown Princess Victoria, Sweden
  • King Jigme and Queen Jetsun, Bhutan
  • Sultan Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar
  • King Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodia
  • King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah, Malaysia
  • Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei 

Naruhito had earlier entered the palace to cheers from waiting fans before reporting his enthronement to his imperial ancestors at three shrines on the palace grounds, dressed in pure white robes.

‘As he is young and energetic with outstanding leadership, I hope he’ll support the people of Japan, which has faced continuous disasters and typhoons,’ said Tomoko Shirakawa, 51, who was among the crowds of umbrella-clutching citizens packing the area in front of the palace.

A court banquet is due to be held on Tuesday evening, before Naruhito and Masako host a tea party for foreign royalty on Wednesday afternoon. The government pardoned about half a million people convicted of petty crimes, such as traffic violations, to mark the day.

Although the public parade was postponed until Nov. 10, NHK public TV said there were 26,000 police providing security on Tuesday. 

Naruhito is unusual among recent Japanese emperors since his only child, 17-year-old Aiko, is female and as such cannot inherit the throne under current law. Unless the law is revised, the future of the imperial family for coming generations rests instead on the shoulders of his nephew, 13-year-old Hisahito, who is second in line for the throne after his father, Crown Prince Akishino.

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Japan's Crown Princess Kiko arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo ahead of Tuesday's ascension ceremony
Japan’s Crown Princess Kiko arrives at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo ahead of Tuesday’s ascension ceremony
Minister for Defense Taro Kono, guest, Hitomi Noda and former PM of Japan Yoshihiko Noda attend the Enthronement Ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
Minister for Defense Taro Kono, guest, Hitomi Noda and former PM of Japan Yoshihiko Noda attend the Enthronement Ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Japan's Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo
Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo
Mongolia's President Khaltmaagiin Battulga arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battulga arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni arrives at the Imperial Palace ahead of the ceremony
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni arrives at the Imperial Palace ahead of the ceremony
Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
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Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was among foreign dignitaries to attend the event
Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was among foreign dignitaries to attend the event
Netherland's King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima arrive at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Netherland’s King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima arrive at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony
China's Vice President Wang Qishan arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
China’s Vice President Wang Qishan arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
Vatican's Cardinal Francesco Monterisi arrives at the Imperial Palace
Vatican’s Cardinal Francesco Monterisi arrives at the Imperial Palace
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and his wife Doris Schmidauer arrive at the Imperial Palace
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and his wife Doris Schmidauer arrive at the Imperial Palace
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India's President Ram Nath Kovind and wife Savita represent their country among dignitaries from 180 nations
India’s President Ram Nath Kovind and wife Savita represent their country among dignitaries from 180 nations
Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow arrives to attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow arrives to attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (right) and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (second right) attend the enthronement ceremony where emperor officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf (right) and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (second right) attend the enthronement ceremony where emperor officially proclaims his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne

Naruhito’s grandfather, Hirohito, in whose name Japanese troops fought World War Two, was treated as a god but renounced his divine status after Japan’s defeat in 1945. Emperors now have no political authority.

Though many Japanese welcomed the enthronement ceremony, some shrugged it off as a nuisance. There was at least one protest with about two dozen people taking part, a small objection compared to the sometimes violent protests when Akihito was enthroned.

‘There is no need for such an elaborate ceremony. Traffic has been restricted and it is causing inconvenience for ordinary people,’ said Yoshikazu Arai, 74, a retired surgeon.

‘The emperor is necessary now as a symbol of the people, but at some point, the emperor will no longer be necessary. Things will be just fine without an emperor.’

Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his wife, Jetsun Pema, arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his wife, Jetsun Pema, arrive at the Imperial Palace to attend the enthronement ceremony
President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi and his wife Samina Alvi leave the Imperial Palace after attending the ceremony
President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi and his wife Samina Alvi leave the Imperial Palace after attending the ceremony
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani and his wife Rula Ghani leave the Pine Room at Tokyo's Imperial Palace
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and his wife Rula Ghani leave the Pine Room at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace
Attendants chant 'Banzai' cheer during the enthronement ceremony after Japanese Emperor Naruhito proclaimed his enthronement at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Attendants chant ‘Banzai’ cheer during the enthronement ceremony after Japanese Emperor Naruhito proclaimed his enthronement at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Despite heavy rain on the morning of the ceremony, the skies cleared as the rituals started and by the time the royal motorcade left crowds had gathered in the street
Despite heavy rain on the morning of the ceremony, the skies cleared as the rituals started and by the time the royal motorcade left crowds had gathered in the street
An official parade to mark the ascension has been delayed by a month due to Typhoon Higibis, but that did not stop hundreds of well-wishers gathering in the street
An official parade to mark the ascension has been delayed by a month due to Typhoon Higibis, but that did not stop hundreds of well-wishers gathering in the street 

An eight-ton throne, a 24-inch tall hat, and secret treasures the emperor cannot look at: Pomp and ceremony of Japan’s ascension ritual

Rarely seen outfits, elaborate thrones and ancient paraphernalia adorn Tuesday’s sacred and sumptuous ceremony marking the formal ascension of Emperor Naruhito to Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne.

The new emperor took the throne earlier this year after his father Akihito’s abdication, but the proclamation ceremony cements the transition in stunning style.

Here are some of the elements that were on show:

– Imperial Thrones –

The emperor and empress are each allotted an enormous throne, consisting of a relatively restrained seat set inside an elaborate canopy atop a fenced platform.

The emperor’s eight-tonne throne is called ‘Takamikura’, while the empress’s smaller ‘august seat’ is known as ‘Michodai’.

The structures are made of lacquered cypress wood and were disassembled for transport from the ancient capital of Kyoto to Tokyo for the ceremony.

Naruhito inside the Takamikura, his royal throne, while wife Masako sits inside the Michodai. Naruhito's brother, Akishino, watches dressed in orange while Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister, gives a cheer of 'banzai' or 'long live the king'
Naruhito inside the Takamikura, his royal throne, while wife Masako sits inside the Michodai. Naruhito’s brother, Akishino, watches dressed in orange while Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister, gives a cheer of ‘banzai’ or ‘long live the king’

The emperor’s seat sits inside a canopy featuring rich purple curtains hanging from a roof decorated with golden curlicue adornments and 16-petal chrysanthemum crests.

Underneath is a rectangular stage with low red fencing and side panels painted with legendary animals.

On the points of the octagonal roof sit golden phoenixes, with another larger version of the bird atop the roof’s peak.

To either side of the emperor’s chair are desks where a sacred sword and jewel, part of the imperial regalia, and seals will be placed.

But the emperor will not actually sit on the throne during the ceremony, remaining standing throughout.

– The new emperor’s clothes –

For the ceremony, the emperor will wear a silk outfit in the ‘sokutai’ or ceremonial style. The outfit is now rarely seen and is dominated by a voluminous draped brown-gold outer robe with long, wide sleeves and a cinched waist.

Royal attire often includes motifs of birds, as they were considered divine envoys in ancient times and the emperor’s outer garment is decorated with a mythical Chinese phoenix, believed to symbolise the arrival of peace.

Emperor Naruhito wears a sokutai robe adorned with images of a Chinese phoenix, believed to signal the arrival of peace. His hat is called a kanmuri, and has a simple black base topped with a black tail that extends up to 24 inches in the air
Emperor Naruhito wears a sokutai robe adorned with images of a Chinese phoenix, believed to signal the arrival of peace. His hat is called a kanmuri, and has a simple black base topped with a black tail that extends up to 24 inches in the air

During the ceremony, the emperor and other male royals will carry a ‘shaku’ or sceptre – a narrow plain wooden plate not unlike a large shoehorn.

In the past, royals would sometimes attach ‘cheat sheets’ to the back of the shaku to help guide them through complex rituals.

But the crowning glory of the emperor’s outfit is the kanmuri hat, which consists of a simple flat black base and a towering black tail at the back that extends upright 60 centimetres (about 24 inches).

– Fit for an empress –

Empress Masako will wear an elaborate outfit commonly known as ‘junihitoe’ or many-layered robe.

Masako is expected to wear outfits with part of the rich red sleeves and bottom visible underneath multiple layers of varying lengths. Top layers will be light lilac and green shades with light purple lapels.

Empress Masako dressed in the junihitoe, or many-layered robe, which is heavy, difficult to walk in, and rarely seen outside ceremonies
Empress Masako dressed in the junihitoe, or many-layered robe, which is heavy, difficult to walk in, and rarely seen outside ceremonies

Masako’s hair will be sculpted into a style that sweeps up and out to the sides with a long ponytail extending from the back and a large golden hairpiece pinned above her forehead.

The elaborate traditional outfit, which can be hard to walk in because of its weight, is rarely seen outside imperial rituals and weddings.

– The sacred treasures –

The ceremony would not be complete without the presence of the ‘sacred treasures’. Japanese mythology has it that the sun goddess Amaterasu bequeathed the regalia to the imperial line two millennia ago.

The treasures are the ‘Yata no Kagami’, a mirror, ‘Kusanagi no Tsurugi’, a sword, and the ‘Yasakani no Magatama’, an unspecified jewel.

The possession of the ‘three sacred treasures’ is considered crucial evidence of an emperor’s legitimacy, but there are no photos of them and even the emperor cannot see them.

The treasures were handed to the new emperor in the initial enthronement ceremony held on May 1.

During the upcoming proclamation ceremony, a replica sword and the original jewel will be brought in wrapped in cloth. Both are kept at the palace, along with a replica mirror that is not brought out for ceremonies.

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