In addition to the U.K.'s Prince Charles, royals from all over the world were in attendance at the 2,000-year-old ceremony

By Peter Mikelbank
October 22, 2019 07:00 AM
Credit: Issei Kato/Pool/Getty Images

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito formally ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on Tuesday in a ceremony evoking centuries of tradition dating back 2,000 years.

Although the new Emperor, 59, already assumed his role following the abdication of his father, former Emperor Akihito, on May 1, the importance of the Sokui no Rei (Ceremony of Accession) is such that royalty including Britain’s Prince Charles, Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia and Monaco’s Prince Albert will be among the world leaders and dignitaries representing over 170 nations in attendance.

Akihito, 85, officially announced his plan to step down due to health reasons in December 2017, marking the country’s first abdication in 200 years.

Occurring in the Imperial Palace’s most exclusive space, Tuesday’s ceremony employed two of the nation’s sacred treasures and involves several stages.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito
| Credit: STR/Japan Pool via Jiji Press/AFP via Getty Images
Emperor Naruhito
| Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Empress Masako
| Credit: KIMIMASA MAYAMA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Naruhito, dressed in traditional dark orange robes, mounted a throne (the takamikura) on a dais, contained within a 21-foot high columned, octagonal-shaped, canopied pavilion which has been built within the Hall of Pine. There, two of the Three Sacred Treasures — the sword and jewel — were set beside him.

Emperor Naruhito
| Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images
Empress Masako
| Credit: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

The Three Sacred Treasures, constituting proof of the emperor’s legitimate claim to the Chrysanthemum Throne, are the nation’s essential royal regalia. The first relic, the Kusanagi no Tsurugi sword, is actually a replica of one believed to be in the Atsuta shrine in Nagoya. According to legend, it was given to the first Japanese Emperor Jinmu by a god of war. The Yasakani no Magatama jewel has no other identification and has been kept in a coiffre for centuries.

Prince Charles
| Credit: STR/Japan Pool via Jiji Press/AFP via Getty Images
Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
| Credit: CARL COURT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan
| Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images

No one — including the Emperor — is allowed to gaze on either of these uncovered.

The third and most fascinating relic, the holy mirror, is absent from the ceremony. Legend says the Yata no Kagami holds the soul of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Never removed from its place in Japan’s highest Shinto shrine near Ise, where it was taken 1,500 years ago, the mirror’s role is symbolized by a prayer at ceremonies.

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
| Credit: Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images
King Carl XVI Gustaf and Crown Princess Victoria
| Credit: Koji Sasahara/Pool/Getty Images
Prince Albert
| Credit: Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images
Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands
| Credit: Koji Sasahara/Pool/Getty Images

Around 2,000 guests witnessed a large courtyard procession of swordsmen, archers, drum and gong players and flag displays before curtains were thrown back on the takamikura and Naruhito began to speak.

With his wife, Empress Masako, seated on an adjacent pavilion (the michodai) proclaimed his accession to the throne and offered a personal pledge to the nation. Following the brief 30-minute ceremony, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the attendees, congratulating the Emperor before leading the assembly in three “banzai” cheers.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain
| Credit: Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images

An afternoon garden party hosted by the royal pair and four palace banquets are included within the ceremonies schedule.

Prince Charles
| Credit: Tim Rooke - Pool/Getty Images

The enthronement marks Prince Charles’ second attendance. He and Princess Diana represented Britain at former Emperor Akihito’s 1990 enthronement.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the 1990 enthronement of Emperor Akihito
| Credit: AKI HITO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Besides Charles, royals expected to attend as head of their nation’s delegation include Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, Monaco’s Prince Albert, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium, King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, King Abdullah of Jordan, Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederick and Crown Princess Mary, Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesae Namgyel and Queen Jetsun, Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg.

Also announced are Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan, embattled Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will head the U.S. delegation.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko (who turned 85 on Sunday) are not expected to attend the ceremonies in person.

Former Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko
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In honor of the formal enthronement, a holiday and a general amnesty have been declared. Approximately 500,000 citizens convicted of petty crimes will be pardoned, fines forgiven and in certain cases, legal restrictions removed from their records.

A scheduled parade featuring the royal couple in a Rolls Royce convertible following the ceremony has been postponed until November 10 in the aftermath of deadly Typhoon Hagibis last weekend, which was considered to be the most devastating typhoon to hit the Kantō region of Japan since 1958.