TOKYO – Emperor Naruhito of Japan was celebrating on Friday his first year on the throne, which has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and a powerful typhoon that caused the postponement of ceremonies to commemorate his enthronement.
Naruhito, 60, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019, one day after his father Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in more than two centuries.
After a ritual ceremony in which he received the three relics of the imperial family, symbols of the emperor’s power, Naruhito paid a heartfelt tribute to his father and promised to follow his path of always keeping in mind the Japanese people, among whom he apparently receives wide support.
According to a survey published by the Kyodo news agency on the occasion of Naruhito’s first anniversary on the throne, 75 percent of respondents felt positive about the emperor – 58 percent said they felt an affinity for him, higher than 48 percent recorded for Akihito in a similar survey after his enthronement in 1989.
During the first year of Reiwa, the name of the era that marks the reign of Naruhito, the 126th emperor of Japan has taken part in a multitude of ceremonies related to his enthronement, received foreign dignitaries such as US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, as well as visited several cities around the country.
The public ceremony to proclaim his succession to the throne (equivalent to a monarchical coronation) was held on Oct. 22 before 2,000 guests, including more than 400 foreign dignitaries, and was marred by bad weather in the wake of the powerful Typhoon Hagibis.
The storm caused widespread damage, from which some areas are still recovering, and caused a delay of almost 20 days of the only celebration that was open to the public – the open-top car procession of the emperor with his wife, Empress Masako.
Among the duties performed during their first year, the imperial couple visited the victims of the typhoon, maintaining a tone close to that of their predecessors, and highlighted the ongoing recovery of Masako, 56, from adjustment disorder, a condition marked by depression and other stress-induced symptoms.
At a time they are seeking to fulfill their roles, the spread of COVID-19 has forced Naruhito and Masako to stay away from public events in recent months.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the Japanese emperor was forced to cancel the traditional public greeting from the balcony of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace on the occasion of his birthday on Feb. 23, his first on the throne.
The Japanese head of state expressed his wish for the spread of the coronavirus to end “as soon as possible.”
The pair has been receiving updates on the health crisis from medical experts.
“I sincerely hope that people will further come together and join forces in overcoming the difficult situation,” Naruhito said in a private conference on April 10 with one of the members of the government panel working on crisis management, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
Naruhito and Masako were planning to make their first official overseas trip to the United Kingdom in May, although that has been canceled due to the pandemic.
The spread of the virus also prompted the postponement of a ceremony originally scheduled for April 19 in which the emperor’s younger brother, Fumihito, 54, was to be formally proclaimed as crown prince, the first in the line of succession.
His parents, Akihito and Michiko, aged 86 and 85, also faced stress in their first year of retirement.
In June, two months after Akihito’s abdication, Michiko underwent a cataract operation days after cardiac abnormalities were detected, and in September, breast cancer surgery.
More recently, in January, Akihito fainted, although nothing serious was found in subsequent medical examinations.
The emperor emeritus has been away from public activities since he gave up the throne, although on Jan. 2 he appeared briefly with Emperor Naruhito in the traditional New Year greeting from the balcony of the Imperial Palace.