TOKYO, May 1, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito formally
ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on Wednesday, a day after his father
abdicated from the world’s oldest monarchy and ushered in a new imperial era.
Naruhito officially became emperor at the stroke of midnight but the
process was formalised with a 10-minute ritual on Wednesday morning that was
off-limits to female royals — even his wife Masako.
It took place on the first day of the new imperial era of Reiwa, meaning
“beautiful harmony”, which will last throughout Naruhito’s reign.
At a solemn ceremony in the Imperial Palace’s Room of Pine, the 59-year-old
was presented with the items his father Akihito relinquished a day earlier:
sacred imperial treasures of a sword and a jewel, as well as the seal of
state and his personal imperial seal.
The sole woman allowed to attend was the only female member of Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.
Shortly afterwards, joined by Masako and other royals, Naruhito was to
address the nation for the first time as its 126th emperor.
He will also make a public appearance on Saturday when he will again speak
to the people of Japan.
But the pomp and ceremony will wait until October 22 when he and Masako
will appear in elaborate traditional robes for a ceremony in the palace
before parading through the streets of the capital to be congratulated by a
host of world leaders and royals.
Naruhito will greet his first foreign head of state as emperor later this
month, when US President Donald Trump visits Japan to meet the new monarch.
– Balancing act –
The Oxford-educated Naruhito faces the delicate balancing act of continuing
his father’s legacy of bringing the monarchy closer to the people while
upholding the centuries-old traditions of the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Like his popular father Akihito, he has warned of the need to remember
World War II “correctly,” without downplaying Japan’s early 20th-century
He has also spoken of the need to modernise the royal family, and vowed
when he married Masako — who left behind a promising diplomatic career — to
protect her “at any cost”.
She has struggled however to adjust to palace life, including being
subjected to enormous pressure to produce a male heir, and has suffered
stress-induced “adjustment disorder” for much of their marriage.
The couple have one child, a 17-year-old daughter called Aiko, who cannot
inherit the throne because she is female.
In a statement released on her birthday in December, Masako pledged to do
her best despite feeling “insecure” about becoming empress.
In the candid statement, she said she was recovering and could “perform
more duties than before”, crediting the “powerful support” of the public.
Naruhito is ascending the throne in a very different Japan to the one his
father took over when he became emperor in 1989.
Then, Japan ruled the world economically, its technology was the envy of
every industrialised nation, and its stock market was at highs unlikely to be
– Symbol of Japan –
At the height of the bubble, Japanese investors were snapping up paintings
like Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and US landmarks including the Rockefeller
Center in Manhattan as “money was dripping off trees” — in the words of one
But following a “lost decade” after the bubble burst, Japan is still locked
in a battle against deflation and sluggish growth while its population ages
rapidly and many rural areas suffer from depopulation as young people move to
Akihito’s abdication, the first in 200 years, has resulted in an
unprecedented 10-day public holiday for the famously hard-working Japanese,
with many taking advantage of the break to travel.
But despite the holiday exodus, and steady driving rain on Tuesday night,
crowds still gathered at Tokyo’s famous Shibuya crossing at the clock struck
midnight to welcome the Reiwa era.
“The emperor was a good person… He was the symbol of Japan,” said Rika
Yamamoto, a 24-year-old company employee sheltering under an umbrella on the
“I hope the new emperor will carry on the kindness the old emperor had.”
Political parties across the spectrum also welcomed the new emperor —
including the Communist Party, whose official platform considers the monarchy
incompatible with democracy.
The party said it “celebrates the new emperor’s accession” and that it
expected Naruhito to be a “symbol of the people”.