The Emperor and Empress of Japan hosted the autumnal party at the Akasaka Imperial Gardens in Tokyo on Friday, November 9 — the last for the Heisei Era.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have expressed their intention not to attend the garden party events after the Emperor’s abdication on April 30 next year, making the November 9 celebration the last to take place under the auspices of Their Imperial Majesties.
Preparations for the rituals of the Emperor’s abdication on April 30, 2019 have complicated scheduling. This has led the Imperial Household Agency to decide not to hold the Imperial Spring Garden Party next year, highlighting the historic importance of the November 9 celebration.
Invitees to this last Heisei Era garden party came from various fields of Japanese life. Among them were astronaut Norishige Kanai, popular screenwriter Koki Mitani, and Governor Ryuta Ibaragi of Okayama Prefecture, which was hit hard by massive storms in western Japan in July.
In the sports field, invitees included Momoka Muraoka, the Paralympic alpine medalist who won five medals including the gold in the women’s giant slalom sitting event at the March 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games in South Korea.
The autumnal and springtime Imperial Garden Parties began after the end of World War II but have much older roots. The concept derives from the Imperial Chrysanthemum-Viewing Party (autumn) and the Cherry Blossom Party (spring) that originated in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
During the Heisei Era, the event was cancelled seven times, including the spring and autumn of the first year of Heisei following the death of the Emperor Showa, and the spring of 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The biannual event has taken place 53 times, including the final November 9 party. A total of approximately 98,000 invitees have attended over the years.
Invited guests of past garden parties include Yuzuru Hanyu, the figure skater who won the back-to-back gold medals in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2018 PyeongChang Games, and Nobel Physiology or Medicine Prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka.
Besides these accomplished figures, ordinary but much-talked-about people also have been invited over the years. Memorable among them are Kin Narita and Gin Kanie, the well-known centenarian twin sisters, with whom the Imperial Majesties had a heart-warming exchange of words as other attendees stood nearby, giggling merrily.
Other Imperial Family members attending the final garden party of the Heisei Era included Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.
The various Imperial Family members communed with invitees for about an hour on November 9, while walking along the paths of the Akasaka Imperial Gardens.
Crown Princess Plays New Host
Crown Princess Masako, who frequently left past garden parties early, participated in all aspects of the party this time. She moved through the gardens while mingling with guests for a little more than an hour for the first time in 15 years.
Princess Masako’s pleasing demeanor is a manifestation of her awareness that she will take on a new role in hosting the future garden party, when the crown prince accedes to the throne on May 1 next year and she becomes empress, according to a senior official of the Imperial Household Agency.
Princess Masako attended the November 9 party dressed in kimono with an autumn-leaves pattern against a yellow background.
As she talked to Paralympic gold medalist Muraoka who attended in a wheelchair, the crown princess bowed a bit forward, braving the rain in an apparent bid to make eye contact with the Paralympian.
Princess Masako also spoke to Gurimu Narita, a young athlete who aspires to represent Japan in the men’s high jumps at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. The princess was quoted as encouraging Narita, saying, “I look forward to seeing you perform well in the upcoming Paralympic Games that will take place in our motherland.”
Narita later told reporters that he “felt uplifted” and was determined anew to “do my utmost.”
Princess Masako’s health broke down in December 2003, after attending the autumn garden party the same year. She has been recuperating since then. She recovered sufficiently to attend the garden party in the autumn of 2015 for the first time in 12 years, and subsequently attended each of the five years thereafter. However, after talking with invitees for a few minutes, she left the parties early each time on account of her health.
This year, the princess made visits to Hyogo, Fukuoka and Oita prefectures between August and October, accompanying her husband, the Crown Prince, on official duties. However, she refrained from making a trip to Yamagata Prefecture with the Crown Prince on November 7 and 8, in order to restore her energy to attend the final Imperial Garden Party of the Heisei Era.
Author: The Sankei Shimbun