TOKYO – Japan was preparing on Sunday for the upcoming enthronement ceremony of its recently-ascended emperor with a series of planned celebrations that have been dampened by tragedy in the wake of the deadliest typhoon to hit the archipelago in half a century.
The only event within the celebrations that is open to the general public has been postponed in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, which left a devastating toll of at least 78 dead, 346 injured and nine people missing as it struck northern and central Japan last weekend.
Emperor Naruhito, who officially took over imperial duties from his abdicating father Akihito in May, is set to take part in various traditional rituals and festivities marking his ascension to the revered Chrysanthemum Throne in front of domestic and foreign dignitaries.
CEREMONIES ADAPTED TO NEW TIMES
The ceremonies announcing the beginning of the emperor’s reign and his enthronement have been held separately since the 9th century AD, though numerous changes have been introduced over the last millennium in terms of format, accessibility to the public and participation of foreign guests.
The 1928 enthronement ceremony of Hirohito – Naruhito’s late grandfather – was the first one to be announced over the radio.
However, the announcement was banned from being made in real time and purposefully delayed in order to preserve some of the mystical secrecy and hermeticism that has traditionally surrounded the Japanese imperial throne, Tokyo University historian Keiko Hongo explained during a chat with reporters.
Hirohito’s son, Akihito, succeeded him in 1990. It was the first time the enthronement ceremony was performed in Tokyo – the ancient imperial seat of Kyoto had hosted it until then – and the first time it was broadcast on television.
Several foreign dignitaries attended the solemn ceremony, which was followed by a parade in which Akihito and his consort, Empress Michiko, waved at their subjects through the streets of the Japanese capital.
The innovations that made the ceremony more modern and accessible to commoners were designed as part of a bid to build a new relationship between the historically-distant monarch and the Japanese public, as well as strengthen his standing within the international community.
“BANZAI” AND CHEERS WITH DIGNITARIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Naruhito’s enthronement rituals are scheduled to begin right after noon on Tuesday at the Imperial Palace, where the emperor will receive the regalia that symbolize his power (a sword representing valor, a mirror exemplifying wisdom and a jewel embodying benevolence) before ceremonially ascending the Takamikura throne, covered by curtains and a canopy that will be 6.5 meters (21 feet) high.
Empress Masako will sit next to him on a lower throne engraved with decorations inspired by the Chinese aesthetic tradition.
In fact, until the beginning of the Meiji Era in 1868 – which saw the country’s rapid modernization and industrialization – the emperor and empress of Japan used to wear attires inspired by China’s Tang dynasty during their enthronement ceremonies.
Naruhito will wear a Japanese-style ceremonial dress along with Shinto headgear and a wooden staff in his right hand symbolizing dignity, while Masako will be dressed in an elaborate kimono made with five layers of delicate handwoven silk.
Once on their respective thrones, the chamberlain will draw back the curtains to let the emperor and the empress be visible and Naruhito will speak briefly, which will be followed by congratulations from those attending the ceremony with the traditional cheers of “Banzai!” – meaning “10,000 years” – for the long life of the emperor.
The first ceremony will be held at a sumptuous hall in the Imperial Palace before a select group of people mostly made up of other members of the imperial family and a handful of foreign representatives.
Some 2,000 guests, including dignitaries from 174 countries, are set to attend the ensuing celebrations, among them prominent royals such as the United Kingdom’s Prince Charles and Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.
The guests will then honor the new Japanese monarch during a banquet at the palace on Tuesday night, where the foreign dignitaries will be able to interact with Naruhito and Masako during a formal reception.
ENTHRONEMENT PARADE POSTPONED DUE TO THE TYPHOON
The schedule of enthronement events included a parade for which the new emperors were set to travel in a convertible from the Imperial Palace to the Imperial Residence of Akasaka, a route covering a distance of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).
It is the only event that is open to the general public.
The government decided to delay the parade until Nov. 10 because of the devastation wrought by Hagibis, which is still keeping a large part of the country’s security forces busy with rescue and reconstruction tasks.
The people will have to make do with a televised broadcast of the ceremony on Tuesday and wait for another three weeks to see the new emperors up close, after a day of ceremonies that will have an estimated cost of 1 billion yen (around $9.23 million).
In any case, it appears to be a better deal compared to the Edo period (1603-1868), when tickets were reportedly sold to access the Imperial Palace during the enthronement rituals for the lucky few who could afford to witness festivities that were restricted to members of the imperial family and the high nobility at the time.