TOKYO – Crown Prince Naruhito will become on May 1 the new occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne on inheriting a legendary sword, a mythological mirror and a sacred jewel in a series of ceremonies and rites that have been held in Japan for more than 1,000 years and in the presence of few witnesses.
The son of Emperor Akihito will begin a process for ascending the throne once he receives from the Chamberlain the coffers with two of the Three Sacred Treasures that symbolize the position, as established by Japanese imperial protocol.
On April 30, the current occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne will officially abdicate in front of a select group of institutional representatives, among them Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and return the Three Treasures that he has been a custodian of for three decades.
THE SYMBOLS OF IMPERIAL POWER
Similar to the crowns of European monarchs, these jewels have been centerpieces in coronation ceremonies since the end of the 12th century, and owing to their sacred nature they have never been photographed or seen outside the walls of the Imperial Palace.
Eiichi Miyashiro, a historian and reporter specialized in matters related to the Japanese monarchy, explained during a media interaction that these treasures were symbols of imperial authority.
The last time they changed hands was during the enthronement of Akihito in 1989, when two boxes containing the Kusanagi sword – a replica of a weapon believed to possess supernatural powers according to Japanese mythology – symbolizing valor, and a jewel made of jade representing benevolence were handed to him.
On May 8, the emperor will take possession of the Third Imperial Treasure, the Yata no Kagami mirror, in a ritual held inside the palace and without the presence of people who are not a part of the imperial family. Only after that will his new status as the emperor be made official, according to tradition.
While the first two treasures are handed over in state ceremonies, the mirror is given to the emperor in a private religious event that will take place in the Kashikodokoro shrine, located inside the Imperial Palace and where goddess Amaterasu – from whom the monarchy claims to trace its lineage – is worshiped.
AN UNUSUAL SUCCESSION
The formal abdication of Akihito will be the first such instance by a Japanese emperor in two centuries, according to Miyashiro.
Accompanied by Empress Michiko, Akihito will give his last address as emperor in a ceremony on April 30 before an audience of 338 people, among them senior officials of the central and regional governments.
In contrast, the ceremony to hand over the Sacred Treasures to Naruhito will have fewer people in attendance and will be restricted to top representatives of the judiciary, executive and legislature, and adult males of the Japanese imperial family.
The restriction on females from the imperial family from attending is in accordance with tradition enforced by the Imperial Household Agency, which oversees all protocols concerning the imperial family. However, in Miyashiro’s opinion, it should have been revised from a more contemporary perspective and keeping in mind gender equality.
A curious fact worth noting is that for around 17 hours, Japan will be without an emperor – from 5.30 pm on April 30 to 10.30 am on May 1 – as there is no official position on who occupies the throne between the abdication and enthronement ceremonies, according to Miyashiro, a historian and reporter for the Asahi newspaper.
FIRST WORDS OF THE NEW EMPEROR
Naruhito’s first address as emperor will take place before Abe and other senior members of the government on May 1 after inheriting the Three Treasures. It is among the most anticipated moments of the entire process of succession.
His words will attract great media attention, according to Miyashiro, who recalled how in 1989 Akihito’s brief statement after his coronation was extensively covered by the Japanese media.
Naruhito’s process of ascending the throne will continue with a series of Shinto rituals and ceremonies during the spring and autumn, the most prominent of them being this enthronement and proclamation before the people, a procession through the streets of Tokyo and banquets where foreign representatives and dignitaries will be invited.
These banquets will be held in the Imperial Palace from Oct. 22-31 with 2,600 guests, among them the heads of state and representatives from 195 countries with whom Japan maintains diplomatic relations.