People of Japan had the rare opportunity of witnessing the galore of imperial legacy making a comeback in public display with all its pomp and glitter. Last week's Imperial enthronement ceremony was not only an event for the new Emperor to make his pledge to work for the happiness of Japanese people, but was also a public display of rich historical legacy that surrounds the imperial family. The 30 minutes celebration of the imperial enthronement was held at the Imperial Palace of the Japanese capital last Tuesday with the presence of around 2,000 guests, including more than 400 dignitaries from around 190 countries. President Mohammad Abdul Hamid represented Bangladesh at the ceremony.
Despite being short in duration, the enthronement spectacle was full of rich and colorful display of Japan's imperial inheritance. This was despite the fact that the unfavorable weather condition prevailing over much of eastern Japan at the time ceremony forced the organizers to postpone some of the outdoor events, including an imperial motorcar procession and also the parade of ceremonial officials in traditional Japanese attire in the courtyard of Seiden-Matsu-no-Ma state hall of the imperial palace with flags and banners. It was announced earlier that taking into consideration of the casualties and damages caused by typhoon Hagibis, the Imperial Household Agency has decided to postpone the motorcar procession and it is now scheduled to be held on November 10. The rain, on the other hand, forced ceremonial officials carrying swords and bows to move inside to the corridor. However, rain stopped once the ceremony started.
Minute details of the ceremony were worked out over a long period of time after the secretariat for the ceremonies of imperial succession was established in August 2018 within the cabinet secretariat. The four part ceremony included the enthronement, Imperial procession by motorcar, a court banquet, and banquet hosted by prime minister and his spouse. The main attraction was the enthronement, which was also broadcast live for Japanese citizens to witness the galore and listen to the pledges made by the new emperor as well as the prime minister.
The event started right at 1 pm with the Emperor appearing in the state hall with state chamberlains placing the imperial regalia of sword and jewel as well as the privy seal on the small tables on the right and left sides of the imperial throne. The imperial throne was placed in a square platform of more than 6-meter wide and the overall height of the throne is 6.48 meters. Next to it a slightly smaller and shorter throne was the seat of the Empress. After the Emperor ascended the throne, the Empress followed the same ritual accompanied by the vice grand master of ceremonies and vice grand chamberlain. Throughout this period the curtains of both the thrones remained closed and the small selected audience invited to the ceremonial hall was not able to see Emperor and the Empress. Once everything was set, the sound of the gong alarmed the guests of imperial appearance and as guests stood from their seats the curtains of the throne for the Emperor and the august seat for the Empress were removed and with the strike of the drum guests bowed to pay their respect. Then the Prime Minister moved forward in front of the Emperor and while he was standing below the platform, the Emperor opening the scroll handed over to him by the Grand Chamberlain, delivered his imperial address. In his address Emperor Naruhito paid deep respect to his father, the former Emperor Akihito, for sharing the joys and sorrows of the people and also for showing compassion through his own bearing. He then made the solemn pledge to act in accordance to the constitution and fulfill the responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan.
The imperial address was followed by a short speech delivered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In his speech Abe said he was profoundly moved by the Emperor's desire to work for developing further and contributing to friendship and peace in the international community and the well-being and prosperity of humankind. After finishing his address, the Prime Minister gave three cheers to celebrate the enthronement and guests joined him in loud voice.
With the Prime Minister's return to his designated seat, the court officials closed the curtains of the imperial throne and the seat of the empress. And with the departure of the Emperor and the Empress, the short 30-minute enthronement ceremony came to an end with a 21-gun salute and Emperor Naruhito became the 126th Emperor of Japan's unbroken lineage.
For the ceremony the Emperor was clad in a dark-orange colored robe with a design dating back to the ninth century. In earlier days emperors used to wear this kind of dress on special occasions and Emperor Naruhito had chosen to follow the tradition. The empress was dressed in a 12-layered court kimono. The rituals of the imperial succession followed the tradition dating back to more than 1,000 years.
Absent from the ceremony were former Emperor Akihito and former Empress Michiko. Emperor Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in 200 years because of concerns over his advanced age and weakening health and paved the way for imperial succession in his lifetime.
In the evening, the imperial couple welcomed guests at a court banquet held for the attendees of the enthronement ceremony. The Japanese government earlier proclaimed the day a national holiday and pardoned around half a million petty criminals on the occasion. Tight security was imposed around the imperial palace and elsewhere in Tokyo by mobilizing additional police forces from across Japan.
However, it was not all joining the celebration mood. Smaller groups of protesters opposing the imperial system held demonstrations and there have been reports of minor clashes as well. There had also been criticism that the ritual runs contrary to Japan's postwar constitution that separates state and religion. Much of the ceremonial parts of the enthronement, including a morning visit of the emperor to the inner shrine of the palace to inform the sun goddess Amaterasu-Omikami of his enthronement, follow Shinto religious tradition. In addition critics also point out the elevated Imperial position at the enthronement, which was higher than that of the elected leader of the country. They say it goes against the constitutional proclamation that the sovereignty lies with the people and the Emperor is merely the symbol of unity of the people. But despite such opposing views, public mood in Tokyo and elsewhere was rather upbeat.
(Tokyo, October 26, 2019)
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