During a highly codified ceremony, the new 59-year-old sovereign confirmed his accession to the Chrysanthemum throne.
Naruhito officially fulfilled his first obligations as the 126th Emperor of Japan on Wednesday May 1, promising to always stand “alongside the people”, the day after his father Akihito abdicated. During a highly codified six-minute ceremony, alongside his younger brother who became crown prince, the new 59-year-old ruler, dressed in a tailcoat costume and wearing attributes (a large necklace and decorations ), recorded his accession to the throne of the Chrysanthemum.
He was symbolically given the royal seals ”and the sacred treasures, a sword, a jewel and a mirror, the possession of which formalizes his status of emperor, in front of an audience from which the women of the imperial family were excluded. The only guest was the only female minister in Shinzo Abe’s government.
The emperor then gave his first speech, this time in the presence of his wife Masako, sporting a diadem set with diamonds, and a larger audience of just over 260 personalities. “I undertake to act in accordance with the Constitution and to fulfill my obligations as a symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, always having the people in mind and always standing by their side”, solemnly declared Naruhito.
He also said his “respect” for the attitude of his father during 30 years of reign, who “shared the joys and sorrows of the people” and showed his “compassion”. Akihito, now Emperor Emeritus, was absent.
New Reiwa Era
For the first time in 202 years, the succession takes place during the lifetime of the outgoing emperor, who became Emperor Emeritus at midnight on Wednesday, a new title. Japan thus entered the new Reiwa era (beautiful harmony) after three decades of the Heisei era (completion of peace), which marked the spirits not only because of the many natural disasters which enamelled it but also of the Emperor Akihito’s unprecedented proximity to the people of whom he was the symbol.
If the transition is made in a very formal way according to the rites linked to Shintoism (set of animist beliefs) and that restraint is required including among the population, the change of era is nonetheless a historical event. , accompanied by an exceptional leave of 10 days.
The emperor had arrived a little earlier in a black car, after having greeted the small crowd gathered along the route, as the sun had returned to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the very touristy Meiji Jingu Shrine was preparing to celebrate the event. About thirty Shinto priests in white robes performed a ceremony to announce the enthronement to the ancestors of the family. Sake (rice alcohol) was then offered – a long tail forming for only 1,000 chosen ones.
All over the country, Japanese people got up at dawn to witness Reiwa’s first sunrise, although a cloudy sky often spoiled the spectacle. Like Akihito, Japanese citizens are unanimous in wishing for an era of “peace, security, tranquility”.
By Tuesday afternoon, Akihito, 85, ended his reign with a short ceremony of barely ten minutes. “I express from the bottom of my heart my gratitude to the people of Japan who accepted me as a symbol of the State and supported me,” he read, taking up the definition of his role enshrined in the Constitution entered in force in 1947 and by which the emperor lost his semi-divine status.
Akihito had subtly expressed in August 2016 his wish to be relieved of his task, which he could no longer “exercise body and soul” due to his age and declining health. His successor has hinted that he will be part of the continuity of his ascendant, but, as the press editorials point out on Wednesday morning, he will have to make his mark.
While some hope that during his reign which begins an international message – we know he has always been very concerned about teaching the younger generations of Japan’s militarist past or the problem of water in the world – , others think that he will have to be careful not to be too visible, too active.
“I want him to pray discreetly for the people, in order to preserve his stature as an emperor, it is important for the continuity of the imperial system,” retired Kunio Nagahama told AFP.
The role of Empress Masako will also be very scrutinized. This polyglot, who gave up a promising diplomatic career to enter the imperial family, found it difficult to comply with the rigidities of the imperial system. “It will fulfill its obligations gradually,” Naruhito warned last year.