Japan emperor completes enthronement in ritual-bound ceremony

Natsuko Fukue, Miwa Suzuki (Agence France-Presse) - October 22, 2019 - 1:23pm

TOKYO, Japan — Japan's new Emperor Naruhito on Tuesday completed his ascension to the ancient Chrysanthemum throne in a solemn, ritual-bound ceremony performed before hundreds of dignitaries in the Imperial Palace.

"I hereby declare my enthronement at home and abroad," Naruhito said from inside an elaborately adorned structure housing his throne, with his wife Empress Masako alongside him standing before her own throne.

A powerful typhoon that hit Japan earlier this month, killing dozens, forced the cancellation of a huge parade, but the rest of the day's events went ahead with the pomp and tradition of a dynasty that claims more than 2,000 years of history.

The royal family filed into the palace's Pine Room dressed in heavy robes, with the women sporting sculpted wigs topped with golden headpieces.

Set in the center of the room were the two structures housing the thrones, draped with purple curtains that were ceremonially opened to reveal the royal couple standing within.

Naruhito wore a outfit topped with a voluminous copper robe and a rarely seen black headpiece, while Masako wore a multi-layered kimono, trailed by attendants to help her move in the weighty outfit.

The ceremony was conducted largely in silence, with only drums and gongs sounding. Some 2,000 guests, including foreign dignitaries and royalty, stood at the sound of a deep drum beat before the proclamation began.

"I hereby pledge that I will always pray for the happiness of Japanese people and world peace and, by standing by the Japanese people, I will fulfil my duty as the symbol of Japan and of the unity of the people of Japan," added Naruhito.

"We, the people of Japan, will respect your highness the emperor as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the Japanese people," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the emperor, before exclaiming "Banzai!" or "Long live the emperor" three times.

Banquets planned 

Naruhito officially assumed his duties as emperor on May 1, the day after his father became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in two centuries.

But the transition was not complete until his new role was officially proclaimed.

In the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, the government postponed a royal parade until November 10, but the rest of the day's ceremonies were left unchanged.

Naruhito began the day by "reporting" the proclamation to deities and his ancestors in the ancient royal dynasty, wearing a voluminous white robe and a rarely seen black hat complete with a tail extending up 60cm (two feet) at the back of his head.

And a series of banquets will be held from the evening for guests ranging from Britain's Prince Charles to South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon.

The government has also announced more than half a million people convicted of minor offenses will be pardoned as part of the events.

Small crowds braved the rain to stand outside the palace, hoping for a glimpse of arriving visitors.

Sanae Yasuda, in her 70s, had booked a tour from central Japan's Nagoya for the occasion, and decided to come even after the parade was cancelled.

"I didn't know the palace was closed, I wanted to go inside... I'm still happy to be here," she told AFP.

Succession worries 

"Today is an important day for the new emperor and the empress," added 78-year-old Shuichi Hachinuma, who had come from Sendai city in northeast Japan.

"I feel the emperor is closer to us, compared to in the past... I want him to send a message of peace."

"I wanted to come here just to feel the atmosphere since I know the emperor and the empress are inside," said Michiyo Kunikata, 63.

"The couple is really international. I feel a new page has been turned for the royal family," she added.

Oxford-educated Naruhito faces a delicate balancing act as emperor, seeking to continue his father's legacy of bringing the monarchy closer to the people while upholding the centuries-old traditions of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

And the royal line faces its own challenges, with a dearth of successors thanks to rules that prevent women from inheriting the throne.

The royal couple have one child, a 17-year-old daughter called Aiko.

Naruhito's brother Akishino is currently crown prince. And Akishino's son -- 13-year-old Hisahito -- is currently the only other remaining successor.

There have been calls to revise the succession rules, but so far there have been no formal moves.

Despite the succession worries, the royals remain broadly popular.

A poll released by national broadcaster NHK on the eve of the ceremony found 70 percent of voters in the country hold "friendly or favourable" views towards the imperial family.

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