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Explained: Emperor Naruhito’s second ascension, Japan’s Reiwa imperial era

Naruhito became Emperor in May this year after his father, the 85-year-old Akihito, abdicated the throne due to poor health. It was the first such abdication in Japan in over 200 years.

, Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
October 23, 2019 4:22:43 pm
Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Emperor Naruhito attends a ceremony to proclaim his enthronement to the world, called Sokuirei-Seiden-no-gi, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, October 22, 2019. (Issei Kato/Pool Photo via AP)

Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito formally ascended the throne on Tuesday in a ceremony replete with elaborate rituals. President Ram Nath Kovind was in Tokyo to attend the ceremony.

Naruhito became Emperor in May this year after his father, the 85-year-old Akihito, abdicated the throne due to poor health. It was the first such abdication in Japan in over 200 years.

The Japanese monarchy

Legend has it that Japan’s ruling dynasty was founded by Emperor Jimmu, whose accession is traditionally dated to 660 BC. The Japanese Emperor is revered in the Shinto religion, in which the royal family is believed to have divine descent.

Emperor Hirohito, the father of Akihito, renounced his divinity as part of Japan’s surrender in World War II — and the 1947 Constitution identified the Emperor as “the Symbol of the State and the Unity of the People”.

The Japanese monarchy is the world’s oldest surviving hereditary monarchy.

Naruhito’s ‘first succession’

On May 1, the 59-year-old Naruhito became the 126th incumbent of the Chrysanthemum Throne, which symbolises the Japanese monarchy.

Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attend the enthronement ceremony of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. Kazuhiro Nogi /Pool via Reuters)

The first succession ceremony was a smaller and more symbolic affair as compared to the ‘Sokui no rei’ ceremony that took place on Tuesday. The second ceremony is generally held a year after the death of the former Emperor. In this case, Akihito’s abdication caused many to incorrectly believe that the May function was a combination of the two.

The ‘Sokui no rei’ function

On the day of this function, the new Emperor reports the inauguration to his royal ancestors.

According to the website of the Imperial Household Agency, the ceremonies scheduled for Tuesday were the ‘Sokuirei-Tojitsu-Kashikodokoro-Omae-no-gi’ or the ‘Rite of reporting at the Imperial Sanctuary (Kashikodokoro) on the day of the Enthronement Ceremony’, and the ‘Sokuirei-Tojitsu-Koreiden-Shinden-ni-Hokoku-no-gi’ or ‘Rite of reporting at the Imperial Sanctuaries (Koreiden and Shinden)’.

Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Japan’s Empress Masako walks after a ritual called Kashikoro-omae-no-gi, a ceremony for the Emperor Naruhito to report the conduct of the Enthronement Ceremony at the Imperial Sanctuaries, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. (Source: Kyodo/via Reuters)

The Kashikodokoro enshrines the imperial ancestor ‘Amaterasu-omikami’ – the Sun goddess. The Koreiden “houses the departed souls of the successive Emperors and Imperial Families, who are enshrined one year after they have passed away.” The Shinden “enshrines various Japanese gods from throughout the country.”

After performing the rituals, Naruhito proclaimed his enthronement from the 21-foot-tall Takamikura throne, in the presence of his consort, Empress Masako, who was seated on an adjacent smaller throne. Two of the ‘Three Sacred Treasures’, an ancient sword and a jewel, were placed beside Naruhito.

Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at the Imperial Palace for the Court Banquets after the Ceremony of the Enthronement of Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. (Pierre Emmanuel Deletree/Pool via Reuters)

Finally, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a congratulatory speech, and led the “banzai” cheers — meaning “long live the emperor” — for Naruhito.

Around 2000 dignitaries from over 180 countries attended the function, including President Kovind. To commemorate the event, Japan pardoned over 5 lakh individuals found guilty of petty crimes.

The ‘Reiwa’ Imperial Era

The monarchy is an institution beloved of the Japanese people, and an integral part of their national identity. The reign of each Emperor is given a name, or gengo, which is used with the Western calendar to mark years.

With the end of the reign of Akihito, the ‘Heisei’ era ended, and with the ascension of Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the new ‘Reiwa’ era has begun in Japan.

Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Foreign dignitaries and government representatives attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, October 22, 2019. (Source: Akio Kon/Pool via Reuters)

Reiwa is made of the characters Rei — that can mean either ‘commands’ or ‘order’, or ‘auspicious’ or ‘good’ — and Wa, meaning ‘harmony’, which is used in the word ‘hei-wa’, or ‘peace’.

The name of the new era has been taken from an ancient anthology of Japanese poems, the Manyoshu, which dates back to the 8th century, and symbolise Japan’s “profound public culture and long tradition”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had said when the name was unveiled.

Emperor Naruhito of japan, Emperor Naruhito enthronement ceremony, japan emperor enthronement 2019, japan Reiwa era, Akihito, indian express explained Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attend the court banquet at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. (Source: Kyodo/via Reuters)

The name of the new era is picked from a list that scholars and experts draw up. The name appears on coins, newspapers, driver’s licences and official documents; it also stands for a certain period and what is seen as its defining spirit — such as “the 90s” or “the Victorian era”, the BBC wrote in an explainer on the new Emperor and his gengo.

Emperor Akihito’s gengo, Heisei, or ‘achieving peace’, followed the Showa era (1926-89), which translates as ‘enlightened harmony’. Showa was preceded by the Taisho era (1912-26), or ‘great righteousness’, and the Meiji era (1868-1912), which translates as ‘enlightened rule’.

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