Emperor Naruhito declares succession to throne in ceremony
TOKYO, Kyodo - Emperor Naruhito declared his succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne in a ceremony Wednesday and pledged to fulfill the symbolic, nonpolitical role in accordance with the postwar Constitution.
His enthronement after Tuesday's abdication by his 85-year-old father former Emperor Akihito -- the first by a Japanese monarch in 202 years -- marked the start of Japan's new imperial era, named Reiwa.
The 59-year-old is the first emperor to be born after World War II and to have studied overseas. With his enthronement, his wife Masako, 55, an Oxford- and Harvard-educated former diplomat, became empress.
“In acceding to the throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by his majesty the emperor emeritus (Akihito) and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement,” said the emperor in his first speech after his enthronement.
“I also swear that I will 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 turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them,” he said during the “Sokui go Choken no gi” rite.
The ceremony at the “Matsu no Ma” stateroom in the Imperial Palace was attended by some 260 people, including the heads of the government, legislature and judiciary as well as other imperial family members.
Following the emperor's speech, as a representative of the people, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe congratulated Emperor Naruhito on his enthronement and pledged to create a “bright future” that is peaceful and full of hope by respecting him as a symbol of the state.
In the preceding ceremony known as “Kenji to Shokei no gi,” the emperor, dressed in a formal black suit and wearing a number of decorations marking his status, inherited the imperial regalia as proof of his ascension to the throne.
The regalia, called “Sanshu no Jingi,” consist of the sacred mirror, sword and jewel. The original mirror is kept at Ise Jingu, a Shinto shrine in Mie Prefecture, central Japan, and the sword at Atsuta Jingu in Nagoya in nearby Aichi Prefecture.
In the ritual, the jewel and a replica of the sword were passed to the new monarch together with the state and privy seals. At the same time, an aide to the emperor visited a shrine inside the Imperial Palace where a replica mirror is kept.
Both ceremonies were brief, lasting between 5 and 10 minutes.
Only adult male members of the imperial family -- the emperor's younger brother Crown Prince Fumihito, 53, and their uncle Prince Hitachi, 83 -- attended the inheritance ceremony for the regalia and seals, following the precedent set at former Emperor Akihito's enthronement in 1989.
Female members of the imperial family were barred from the inheritance ceremony because they are not allowed to succeed to the throne under the Imperial House Law.
However, a kimono-clad Satsuki Katayama, minister in charge of regional revitalization, became the first woman to attend this ceremony since the late 19th century. In the previous ceremony for former Emperor Akihito, members of the then Cabinet of Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita were all male.
The now-retired emperor did not attend the ceremonies.
With the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, the crown prince's son Prince Hisahito, 12, became the second in line to the throne, followed by Prince Hitachi.
Former Emperor Akihito stepped down midnight Tuesday, bringing an end to the Heisei Era spanning his 30-year reign and marking the commencement of Reiwa, which the government translates as “beautiful harmony.”
“I have performed my duties as the emperor with a deep sense of trust in and respect for the people, and I consider myself most fortunate to have been able to do so,” the emperor said in his last speech Tuesday.
At his abdication ceremony, the emperor said he hoped the Reiwa Era “will be a stable and fruitful one,” adding, “I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world.”
In modern Japan, imperial era names, or “gengo,” are widely used in Japanese calendars, on coins and on official documents, and the new era name was announced on April 1 to facilitate changes to these.
The public will have to wait until Saturday to greet the new emperor and the empress. They will make their first public appearances at the Imperial Palace during the country's Golden Week holiday period through Monday, which has been extended to 10 days to celebrate the imperial succession.
A series of ceremonies and events for the imperial succession are scheduled in coming months, including the “Sokuirei Seiden no gi,” a ceremony to proclaim the enthronement of the emperor in the palace's state hall on Oct. 22.
After the enthronement ceremony, the new emperor and empress will parade in an open-top limousine through Tokyo, and take part in banquets with more than 2,000 guests in the same month.
Daijosai, or the great thanksgiving ceremony, in November always follows an emperor's accession to the throne. The emperor will make offerings to the ancestral deities and pray for the peace and prosperity of Japan and its people.
The numerous ceremonies will end with the emperor's visits to the mausoleums of past emperors and Ise Jingu, possibly by the end of the year.
As imperial succession usually happened upon the death of an emperor, the successor had to take part in mourning and funeral events simultaneously with ceremonies for his enthronement.
Former Emperor Akihito, who was enthroned at age 55 on Jan. 8, 1989, a day after his father Emperor Hirohito died, indicated his wish to abdicate in an August 2016 video address, expressing concern that he might not be able to fulfill his duties as symbol of the state due to his advanced age.
He added that previous imperial succession ceremonies put a “very heavy strain on those involved in the events, in particular, the family left behind,” and he had been wondering “whether it is possible to prevent such a situation.”
In 2017, Japan enacted one-off legislation to enable him to step down. (Kyodo)