Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave an exclusive interview to The Sankei Shimbun on the first day of the Reiwa era (May 1), in which he discussed the celebration and ceremony of the day, as well as his hopes for Japan at the dawning of the new era.
Welcoming a Bright Future in the Reiwa Era
The interview took place at the Prime Minister’s Residence shortly after Mr. Abe and his Cabinet attended two ceremonies at the Imperial Palace marking the beginning of the new emperor’s reign. He described the solemnity of the occasion, saying,
I was greatly impressed by the dignified presence of the Emperor and the Empress. I want to extend my hearty congratulations to the Emperor upon his enthronement, and join with all of the people of Japan in working to create a brilliant era of Reiwa, where the flower of every member of society can blossom splendidly.
The two ceremonies held earlier in the morning at the Imperial Palace were the first to mark the accession of Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Prime Minister Abe and his Cabinet were in attendance at both.
The first of the accession rituals for the enthronement came early in the morning. Called the Kenji Tou Shoukei no Gi, it was a small ceremony with highly limited attendance in which the new Emperor Naruhito inherited the Imperial Regalia, including the sacred sword and jewels that evidence his right to reign.
The second ceremony, called Sokui Go Choken no Gi, was the First Audience after the Accession to the Throne. It came later that morning and was attended by the Prime Minister, his Cabinet and other representatives of the people. In it, the new Emperor Naruhito spoke publicly for the first time to the people of Japan, with Empress Masako looking on and other members of the Imperial family nearby. The event was also widely televised.
In the interview, the prime minister reflected on the ceremonies as well as his feelings going forward into this new era. “My deep impression of the dignified attitude of the royal couple was renewed afresh. I have a real sense of joy that we will go forward into a beautiful future along with Their Majesties, the Emperor and the Empress,” Abe stressed.
Reflecting on the Close of the Heisei Era
Just one day earlier on April 30, Japan witnessed a ceremony not seen for over two hundred years called the Taiirei Seiden no Gi. In it, the Emperor Akihito abdicated the Chrysanthemum throne, thereby bringing the Heisei era of Japanese history to a close. Akihito delivered a brief, final speech as the reigning monarch on April 30, just before becoming Emperor Emeritus.
Prime Minister Abe looked back on Akihito’s 30 years on the throne, saying in the interview, “I was filled with thousands of thoughts about Emperor Akihito having safely come this far, as well as with a surge of gratitude toward the abdicating Emperor.”
He also commented on the unusual task handed to the government in August 2016. At the time, now Emperor Emeritus Akihito went directly to the public with a personal and powerful video message that hinted strongly at his wishes to abdicate.
On steps the government took in response, Prime Minister Abe emphasized the weight of the issue they faced. “With a feeling that we had an extraordinary, historic responsibility, we the government have done our utmost to see that the procedures for succession of the Chrysanthemum Throne proceed flawlessly.”
The prime minister in his remarks seemed to be alluding to the special legislation that had been required to allow Emperor Akihito step down. In the end, the law was enacted in the form of a one-time exception to the existing Imperial Household Law, which permitted the abdication of the Emperor and created a new status of Emperor Emeritus for his post-abdication life in the Imperial House. The special law also addressed preparations for a train of rites and ceremonies related to the enthronement of Naruhito, the new Emperor.
(Click here to read the story in its original Japanese.)
Author: The Sankei Shimbun