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Japan Enters a New Era

In the Rites of Becoming Emperor, Naruhito Hopes Japan can "Pursue World Peace together with Other Countries"




Naruhito Reports to the Imperial Ancestors as the New Emperor


On Tuesday May 8, the series of spring rituals that began April 30 marking the transition to a new Imperial era and the accession of Naruhito as Emperor of Japan came to a close. The 59-year old emperor of the Reiwa era reported to the Kashidokoro in the Imperial Palace at just after 10.30 A.M. , wearing - for the first time - the Imperial robes which have been passed down by generations and contain a color which only the emperor is allowed to wear.


He was accompanied by the Imperial House chamberlains, who carried with them two of the Sacred Treasures which symbolize Naruhito’s legitimate status as Emperor: the sword and the jewels. Then, in this final rite in the initial set of ceremonies of becoming emperor, he solemnly reported to the divinity Amaterasu, the mother figure of the Japanese Imperial House, that he had accepted his duties as emperor.


Following the Emperor Naruhito’s fulfilment of the rites, at about 11 A.M., his wife Empress Masako followed her husband in the ceremony. She wore a green-colored traditional dress and an elaborately decorated hairstyle.



The May 8 ceremonies brought a close the first phase of the new emperor’s enthronement rituals. One of the final ceremonies, and perhaps the most important, is a series of rites known as the Daijosai, a thanksgiving ritual to take place on November 14-15. This ceremony is performed by the Emperor only once during his reign. In it, Naruhito will present the divinity Amaterasu with the year’s harvest and pray for the wellbeing of the Japanese people.



First Words of the Internationally Minded New Emperor


The May 8 rituals followed a particularly long Golden Week filled with celebrations of the Imperial succession. They were preceded by the abdication of Heisei Emperor Akihito on April 30.


The new Reiwa era dawned in Japan at the stroke of midnight on May 1, bringing with it the accession rituals and ceremonies for the new emperor, Naruhito.



In his first-ever statement as Emperor just after 11 A.M. on May 1, Naruhito said: “I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world.”


A few days later on May 4, Naruhito delivered a short speech to his subjects as his wife, the Empress Masako, as the rest of his family looked on in a ceremonial room inside the Imperial Palace. He then stepped outside and greeted the common people for the first time.


At about 10 A.M. on May 4 Naruhito appeared on the Imperial Palace veranda and waved to the sea of people holding Japanese flags in the courtyard below. His speech was short, communicating gratitude for the presence of those celebrating his reign and hinting at the kind of Emperor Naruhito wishes to become:


Now that the abdication and ascension to the throne has ended, I am delighted that today people have come here to celebrate with us. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have come here today, despite the heat.



As I pray for the citizens’ health and happiness, I sincerely hope that our country can join forces with other countries in pursuing world peace and achieve further development.


It was a glorious sunny day and 14,130 people came to witness the appearance of Japan’s new ceremonial head of state. A sea of Japanese citizens were present for the historic occasion, but among them were other people from all over the world.



Reactions from Ordinary People


29-year-old Ririko Goto, a woman from Matsumoto whose family was affected by the earthquake of 2001, came to greet the new emperor on May 4, while at the same time she reflected on the work of his father. She commented to Sankei Shimbun. “My grandparents who were refugees in the gym in Matsumoto were visited by the emperor and his wife and were very much encouraged by their warm support. I would like for the [new] emperor to continue his [father’s] efforts in territories affected by disaster.”



An American  Environmental Researcher said she came especially for the day. 25-year-old Brigitte Harvey explained her interest in the new Emperor, saying: “I heard that the Emperor is interested in the issue of water. It might become an impetus for the improvement of environmental issues.”



Foreign Leaders Recall the Heisei Emperor with Appreciation


The 30-year reign of Emperor Akihito is best remembered by leaders and people of many countries as the time when their friendship with Japan flourished.


From the time he assumed the Chrysanthemum Throne, the Heisei Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, visited 37 countries. Before this, as Crown Prince and Princess, they had made official visits to 28 countries as representatives of the Showa Emperor.



President Moon Jae of South Korea expressed his thanks to the now Emperor Emeritus Akihito for fostering links between Japan and South Korea. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Moon in a letter expressed his hope that Akihito will continue to foster the development of ties between the two countries, even after his abdication.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed China’s appreciation for Akihito’s efforts in improving relations between China and Japan in a written statement posted Monday April 29 on the ministry's website. "Emperor Akihito visited China in 1992 and met with Chinese Party and state leaders on many occasions. He has made positive contributions to China-Japan relations.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin also echoed this sentiment in a letter, according to his office.


International leaders therefore had nothing but deep appreciation and well wishes for now Emperor Emeritus Akihito on his abdication on Tuesday, April 30.




Best Wishes for the New Reiwa Emperor


The international leaders and others around the world also expressed their best wishes for his successor, Emperor Naruhito, whose ascension to the throne ushered in the era of Reiwa on May 1.


The Imperial rites of succession have been covered by major news platforms since Tuesday, April 30, in Japan as well as overseas, including Japan’s regional neighbors and those in Europe and North America.


It was a sign of the times that the official spokesperson for the Indian Government reported its government’s reaction on twitter on May 1. The tweet relayed External Affairs Minister Chowkidar Sushma Swaraj’s  remark that India looked forward to the Reiwa era ushering in a new chapter of “beautiful harmony” in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.



United States President Donald Trump issued a formal statement, saying:  


On behalf of the American people, the First Lady and I offer our heartfelt appreciation to Their Majesties the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. As the Heisei era draws to a close and a new generation prepares to ascend the throne, I want to recognize the tremendous importance that the U.S. attaches to its close relationship with Japan.


The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty, in a video message released on YouTube, reflected on the Heisei Era as a period in which the relations between Japan and America flourished significantly:


During the past three decades, our countries have worked together to build the closest, most important, relationship shared by any two nations in the world. I am delighted to join my friends and partners across Japan in welcoming the dawn of the Reiwa Era. I am certain our partnership will continue in beautiful harmony.  



In the United Kingdom, the BBC’s coverage of the ceremonies, commentators speculated about their own monarchy, surmising  that the English monarchy had been monitoring the imperial transition since their own Queen Elizabeth II is 93, and therefore abdication has been considered as an option.


Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his wish that the growth of international ties would continue under the new emperor, saying. "I hope the mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries will be enhanced in all directions."


Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her hope that Taiwan and Japan "will continue to be the best partners with each other in the Reiwa Era." This extends the thoughts she posted on Twitter that during the previous era, the two countries had managed to achieve “the best relationship while caring for each other."


The royal family of Belgium wrote on Facebook that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko helped develop warm bilateral relations and then added their wish that "our good relationship will be developed further."




How the Change of Japan’s Imperial Eras Came About


Akihito’s abdication was the first in over 200 years. He hinted at it for the first time in the summer of 2016 when he told the Japanese people he perceived that it would become increasingly difficult for him to continue performing his duties. The Heisei Emperor, who had been Japan’s monarch since 1989, had undergone treatment for prostate cancer as well as heart surgery.


The abdication ceremony took place in the evening on April 30 and was greeted by the Japanese people simultaneously with jubilation and tears.


The ascending Emperor Naruhito and his wife Masako both studied abroad and have taken an interest in world issues, suggesting the monarchs may  lean toward a particular focus on international affairs. Empress Masako was educated at Oxford and Harvard and had a promising career as a diplomat before marrying into the Japanese monarchy, while Naruhito studied two years at Oxford University.



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Author: JAPAN Forward