How the Enthronement of Japan’s New Emperor Will Work

(Bloomberg) -- Japan has planned traditional pageantry and banquets to celebrate the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito in the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, and invited the world to Tokyo for the festivities. The ceremony takes place Tuesday at the Imperial Palace, nearly six months after he inherited the Chrysanthemum Throne from his 85-year-old father, Akihito, who became the first emperor in two centuries to abdicate, citing health concerns. The ceremony will be followed by a series of banquets hosted by Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako.

1. Who is Naruhito?

The oldest of the three children born to now-Emperor Emeritus Akihito and his wife, Empress Emerita Michiko. Naruhito, 59, graduated in 1982 with a history degree from Gakushuin University in Tokyo, a school favored by the Japanese imperial family, and then studied for two years at Oxford University. He married former diplomat Masako Owada in 1993 and they have one child, Princess Aiko, 17, who is barred by law from the throne because she is female. Princess Masako, as she was known, spent years largely out of the public eye after their marriage, but has been praised for her deft handling of guests including U.S. President Donald Trump, the first head of state to formally pay a call on Naruhito after he ascended the throne on May 1.

How the Enthronement of Japan’s New Emperor Will Work

2. How will the enthronement go?

Representatives of about 180 countries, dressed in formal or traditional attire, will be present for the 30-minute ceremony, set to begin at 1 p.m. Tokyo time at the State Hall inside the palace in central Tokyo. Naruhito will take his seat on the throne, and chamberlains will place the imperial regalia on a table. Masako will then be seated on her adjacent throne before speeches by the Emperor and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will then lead three cheers.

3. Who’s on the guest list?

Japan had been hoping to welcome Vice President Mike Pence, as a symbol of its most important diplomatic relationship, but the U.S. has opted to send a lower-ranked mission led by Transport Secretary Elaine Chao. Neighboring South Korea will send Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon despite the increasingly bitter feud that divides the Asian neighbors.

4. Then what?

Guests at the evening banquet at the palace will be entertained with traditional court music and dancing. The next day, Abe and his wife, Akie, will host about 900 guests at a hotel banquet. About half a million petty criminals will also be pardoned to mark the enthronement, a plan that has met with some criticism. A parade set for Tuesday through the capital’s streets in an open-topped limousine has been moved to Nov. 10 out of consideration for the scores of people killed in a devastating typhoon in October. The government estimated the total cost at 16 billion yen ($147 million), up 30% on the cost of the last enthronement in 1990.

5. Why did Naruhito’s father step down?

In 2016, Akihito said he may no longer be physically fit enough to carry out his duties. The emperor’s powers were restricted after World War II, so Parliament had to pass a one-time law to allow for abdication. April 30, 2019, marked the end of his imperial era known as Heisei, which can be translated as “achieving peace.” The last emperor to abdicate was Kokaku, who stepped down in 1817 to make way for his son. The new imperial era has been dubbed Reiwa, which the government translated as “beautiful harmony.”

How the Enthronement of Japan’s New Emperor Will Work

6. What’s so special about Japan’s imperial family?

It’s old. Japan’s Imperial Household Agency lists Emperor Jimmu, who according to legend was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, as the first to ascend the throne in 660 B.C. The verified historical record of Japan’s imperial family starts at about the sixth century and, according to the official genealogy, includes eight empresses who reigned, two of them twice. Naruhito is the 126th emperor, by the agency’s count.

7. What does an emperor of Japan do?

Naruhito’s grandfather, Hirohito, was the last emperor designated by tradition to be a living god. After Japan’s defeat in 1945, the U.S. kept Hirohito on the throne to build unity, but made the position of emperor one for a mortal who had no say in state policy. “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People,” the first chapter of Japan’s postwar constitution states. This means the emperor stays out of politics and spends a lot of time attending ceremonies. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed some 16,000 people, Akihito and Michiko visited survivors at shelters and were seen as helping a battered nation recover through their compassion.

8. Who’s next in line?

That would be Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino. After him comes Akishino’s 13-year-old son, Hisahito.

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