Japan welcomes new emperor Naruhito as Reiwa era begins

02-May-2019 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, has said he is “filled with solemnity” and vowed to show the same compassion and devotion to the public as his father, in a ceremony to formally recognise his accession to the chrysanthemum throne.

“When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity,” he said Wednesday in a ceremony at the imperial palace, joined on the dais by his wife, Empress Masako.

“Looking back, his majesty the emperor emeritus [Akihito], since acceding to the throne, performed each of his duties in earnest for more than 30 years, while praying for world peace and the happiness of the people, and at all times sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people.”

Naruhito said he would “reflect deeply” on the course followed by his parents and “bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement.

People celebrate the start of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era and Emperor Naruhito’s accession.(Reuters)

People celebrate the start of Japan’s new Reiwa imperial era and Emperor Naruhito’s accession.(Reuters)

“I also swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfil 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. I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation, as well as the peace of the world”.

The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered his “heartfelt congratulations” on behalf of the Japanese people. “We are determined to create a bright future for a proud Japan filled with peace and hope at a time when the international situation is changing dramatically,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Naruhito, standing between his younger brother, Akishino, and Prince Hitachi, the previous emperor’s younger brother, took symbolic possession of the imperial regalia in a brief ceremony, during which not a single word was spoken.

No female members of the imperial family were allowed to attend, after the government controversially decided to honour precedents set by previous accession rites. The minister for regional revitalisation, Satsuki Katayama, was the only woman present.

As a small number of senior politicians and other guests looked on, imperial household agency officials placed a sacred sword and jewel, concealed inside decoratively wrapped boxes, on stands in front of Naruhito, followed by the state and privy seals.

Chinese president Xi Jinping was among several world leaders to send their congratulations. Kyodo news agency quoted Xi as saying that Japan and China had “a long history of friendly exchanges”. He added: “The two sides should work together to promote peaceful development and create a bright future for bilateral relations.”

Donald Trump, who will be the first world leader to meet the new emperor and empress when he visits Tokyo in late May, said: “As the Japanese people embark upon a new era, we will renew the strong bonds of friendship between our two countries.”

Naruhito officially became emperor at the stroke of midnight, as crowds braved unseasonably chilly weather to celebrate the transition and the beginning of the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era.

On Tuesday evening, his father, Akihito, ended his 30-year reign in a brief ceremony in which he offered his “heartfelt gratitude” to the people of Japan for their support and said he hoped his eldest son’s time as head of the world’s oldest monarchy would be one of happiness and peace.

His abdication was the first by a Japanese emperor in just over 200 years, following the 85-year-old’s concerns, expressed in a televised message in 2016, that his age would hinder his ability to carry out official duties.

Many observers expect Naruhito, who spent two years studying at Oxford, to emulate his father’s style, which has been credited with making the imperial family appear less aloof.

A day after his father’s abdication, crown prince Naruhito will become Japan’s new emperor on Wednesday but his wife and mother will not be present to witness the historic transition.

Naruhito will enter the state room at the imperial palace late in the morning and inherit regalia and privy seals confirming his accession to the chrysanthemum throne in a brief ceremony.

Japan’s conservative government, though, has decided to retain a tradition that prevents female members of the imperial family including the outgoing empress, Michiko, and Naruhito’s wife and future empress, crown princess Masakofrom attending.

Under Japan’s 1947 succession law, only male members of the imperial family can ascend the throne, although Akihito’s abdication has revived a debate on changing the law to avoid a succession crisis.

Naruhito and Masako’s only child, 17-year-old Princess Aiko, cannot ascend the throne. First in line after Naruhito is his younger brother, Akishino. His 12-year-old son, Hisahito the first male to be born into the imperial family since his father in 1965 will become second in line when the Reiwa era begins on Wednesday.

No women attended accession ceremonies during Japan’s last three imperial eras, but on Wednesday Satsuki Katayama, the minister for regional revitalisation, and Kiyoko Okabe, acting chief justice of the supreme court, will be present.

“The fact that only adult male members of the imperial family can attend the succession ceremony could be interpreted as gender discrimination, but tradition dictates that this is how it is going to happen,” said Eiichi Miyashiro, a royal historian and senior staff writer for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

There is also a view, according to Miyashiro, “that the government doesn’t want to trigger discussions on the male-only succession law by allowing [royal] women to be part of the enthronement ceremony.”

Masako and other female members of the imperial family will be present shortly afterwards when Naruhito makes his first public comments as emperor, according to Japanese media.

In February, he said he hoped as emperor to “be always close to the people and share in their joys as well as their sorrows”. While Japanese emperors were stripped of political power by the postwar constitution, he may also seek an international role connected to the environment and water conservation, inspired by his time studying the history of water transport on the Thames at Oxford in the mid-1980s.

“In a basic sense, there’s not going to be any dramatic changes. He’s going to continue to operate as a people’s emperor under this constitution of popular sovereignty,” Kenneth Ruoff, a professor of modern Japanese history at Portland State University, told Kyodo news agency.

But Ruoff added: “He’s not going to be a carbon copy of his father. He’s going to take an interest in new issues as they emerge.”

There are doubts, however, over the role of Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former career diplomat who suffers from an adjustment disorder brought on by the stress of adapting to life in the deeply conservative imperial household.

A vehicle carrying Crown Prince Naruhito (L) and Crown Princess Masako (R) leaves the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on 30 April Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Naruhito’s accession leaves Japan with only two eligible heirs to the throne, since Japan’ postwar succession law bans female members of the imperial family from becoming reigning empresses. His younger brother, Akishino, is first in line, followed by Akishino’s 12-year-old son, Hisahito.

As Akihito and his wife Michiko, now known as the empress emerita, began their retirement people gathered in the capital’s Shibuya district to mark the passing of the Heisei (achieving peace) era and the beginning of the Reiwa era.

“The emperor was a good person. He played an important role during the March 11 quake,” said Rika Yamamoto, a 24-year-old company employee, in reference to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that struck northeast Japan eight years ago. “He was the symbol of Japan. I hope the new emperor will carry on the kindness the old emperor had.”




Category: Japan

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