Festive cheer at coronation as rainbow before event makes headlines

A girl waiting outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. The formal declaration at the enthronement is part of a year-long series of ceremonies that will end in April next year.
A girl waiting outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo yesterday. The formal declaration at the enthronement is part of a year-long series of ceremonies that will end in April next year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • A rainbow stretching across Tokyo's skyline - the heavens clearing just before Emperor Naruhito was to be formally enthroned - made headlines in Japanese media yesterday with some pondering if it was a message of hope from the gods.

After all, the 59-year-old is said to be a pure-blood descendant of the mythical Sun Goddess Amaterasu, a legendary deity in the Shinto religion from whom the sacred imperial treasures - including a sword and a jewel - are supposedly handed down through the generations.

These regalia were on display next to Emperor Naruhito's throne at yesterday's enthronement ceremony, known as the Sokuirei Seiden no Gi, as were the State and Privy seals that he uses for official functions.

Still, given that the Emperor had been stripped of his divine status in the pacifist Constitution after Japan's defeat in World War II, the continuous use of these ancient mythical items and the government-engineered act of his looking down on the Prime Minister from his throne have been controversial in modern Japan.

Another controversy is the Daijosai Great Thanksgiving ceremony to be held on Nov 14, a purely Shinto religious rite that will set Japanese taxpayers back by 2.1 billion yen (S$26.35 million).

Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors during the Daijosai, though theories abound that the Emperor enters into spiritual communion with his ancestors.

This use of state funds has not only incurred a series of civil lawsuits - all of which have failed - but also been questioned by the Emperor's younger brother and next in line to the throne, Crown Prince Akishino, 53.

But the government has rationalised the use of state funds by saying that, even if religious, the Daijosai is a necessary ritual in the Emperor's accession to the throne, from where he serves the public good as a symbol of the state.

These swirling controversies aside, the imperial family has become highly revered in Japan today, not least because of former emperor Akihito's empathy for the disaster-stricken and less fortunate.

Yesterday's events, with beefed-up security of up to 26,000 police officers, passed without a hitch. This was unlike Akihito's enthronement ceremony in November 1990, at which left-wing extremists against the imperial system conducted 40 attacks in six prefectures.

Emperor Naruhito's formal coronation yesterday - a national public holiday - was marked by plenty of festive cheer. Celebrations were reported from Hokkaido to Okinawa, with the Tokyo Tower among those producing commemorative passes.

 

Prominent Shinto shrines like the Ise-Jingu in Mie prefecture, dedicated to Amaterasu, also marked the occasion with rituals.

Meanwhile, thousands showed up outside the Imperial Palace, braving heavy rain in the morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal couple, despite the postponement of an official public motorcade for the royal couple to meet the public. This was postponed in consideration of the victims of Typhoon Hagibis, which left at least 80 dead this month.

Many in major hubs from Tokyo's Shinjuku to Osaka's Dotonbori paused to watch the ceremony broadcast live on electronic billboards, as the Emperor delivered his proclamation speech in a ritual dating back more than 1,000 years.

He wore a dark-orange robe with long wide sleeves, whose tint is produced by adding sappanwood dye to the bark of the Japanese wax tree. Its woven pattern includes a phoenix, a kirin (a mythical hoofed chimerical creature), as well as paulownia and bamboo.

 
 

His crown was a black headdress with an upright tail, while he held a wooden baton known as the "onshaku" in his right hand to symbolise dignity.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako will visit the Ise-Jingu and the mausoleums of previous monarchs - including the legendary first monarch Emperor Jimmu - by the end of this year as part of a year-long series of rituals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Festive cheer at coronation as rainbow before event makes headlines'. Print Edition | Subscribe