Ringing in new imperial era with sake and Shinto rites

TOKYO • With refreshing slurps of sake, a spot of mediaeval horseback samurai archery and solemn Shinto rites, Japanese rang in a new imperial era in festive mood yesterday as crown prince Naruhito became their 126th Emperor.

Unseasonable rain may have somewhat dampened the party atmosphere for Tuesday's historic abdication of his father, now Emperor Emeritus Akihito, but the skies cleared yesterday on the first day of the Reiwa (beautiful harmony) era.

Japanese, enjoying an unprecedented 10-day holiday, packed into Meiji Jingu shrine in central Tokyo to celebrate.

As crowds lined the path, some 30 Shinto priests wearing traditional white robes and tall black hats marched under a huge gate towards the main building to conduct a festive ceremony to "report" the new emperor's accession to his ancestors, the Shinto gods.

Thirsty revellers rushed to scoop up masu or plain wooden blocks filled with sake, with 1,000 free cups gone in just 30 minutes.

Shrine maidens wearing white robes and bright orange hakama or wide-legged trousers dished up the rice wine that is synonymous with Japan from a wooden barrel using a long ladle.

"The sake is delicious," said Ms Midori Okuzumi, 49, who travelled from eastern Tokyo with her husband Hirokazu for the celebrations.

"It's a slight shame that the masu ran out before our turn came, but it's still tasty," she said, clutching a small paper cup instead.

Office worker Kiyohiko Izawa, 28, and his wife Naoko, also 28, who works at a bank, visited the shrine to report their marriage to the Shinto gods.

"I'm happy that we were able to report our marriage on the first day of Reiwa," said Mrs Izawa.

Later yesterday, archers on horseback dressed as ancient samurai warriors performed for an enthusiastic crowd, hitting their targets as they galloped over the lush shrine lawns.

The change of era is a huge event in Japan and several couples chose to get married at the stroke of midnight.

Some people went to extraordinary lengths to ring in the new era. With early-morning clouds casting a shadow over the first sunrise, around 80 people paid for a specially chartered plane to soar above them to capture dawn breaking over the Japanese Alps.

"Although passengers could not see Mount Fuji due to bad weather, they were able to enjoy the first sunrise of Reiwa," Mr Sho Inoue, an airline company spokesman, said.

Tuesday night was the last chance for nostalgic Japanese to bid sayonara to the three-decade Heisei (achieving peace) era, and disco fans hit the dance floor and partied like it was 1989, reliving the glitz of the"bubble economy" heyday that defined the early years of the Heisei era.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2019, with the headline 'Ringing in new imperial era with sake and Shinto rites'. Print Edition | Subscribe