October 24, 2019

Emperor Naruhito becomes Emperor (again)

On Tuesday (Japan time), Naruhito was formally enthroned as the 126th emperor of Japan. He succeeded to the position back on May 1, a day after his father abdicated. As with the gap between elections and inaugurations in the United States, it takes a while to get all the ceremonial ducks in a row.

The question of a female emperor aside (more a 19th century issue), the Imperial Household Agency sinks the roots of these ceremonies as deep as they will go. Forget about the Middle Ages. The accession regalia is based on the best known historical recreations of Heian era (794–1185) court dress.

Empress Masako and her female attendants wore juunihitoe, a twelve-layer robe (the literal meaning of the word) quite different from a kimono. The emperor wore a ryuei-no-kanmuri headpiece and a sokutai.

Unlike kimono, yukata, haori and hakama, which are still worn today (you can probably see all four while watching a sumo tournament), you'll only encounter juunihitoe and sokutai on these rare formal occasions and in historical dramas.

Shinto serves the same approximate function in these ceremonies as the Church of England does in the coronation of British monarchs. The Imperial Household Agency maintains a pro forma separation of church and state by organizing the "private" religion rites independent of the "public" enthronement.

It's all the same taxpayer money and civil servants, of course, but like the rites and rituals themselves, there is a great deal to be said for going through the motions.

The substance of the enthronement mostly came down to Emperor Naruhito accepting the job offer. Here is the official translation by the Imperial Household Agency.

I have hereby succeeded to the Throne pursuant to the Constitution of Japan and the Special Measures Law on the Imperial House Law. When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity.

Looking back, His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus, since acceding to the Throne, performed each of his duties in earnest for more than thirty years, while praying for world peace and the happiness of the people, and at all times sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people. He showed profound compassion through his own bearing. I would like to express my heartfelt respect and appreciation of the comportment shown by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan.

In acceding to the Throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement. I also swear that I will act according to the Constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always turning my thoughts to the people and standing with them. I sincerely pray for the happiness of the people and the further development of the nation as well as the peace of the world.

Emperor Naruhito is following his father's example of keeping these things short and to the point. Inaugural and State of the Union stemwinders should have a timer that cuts the mic after twenty minutes. No such speech need be any longer than Abraham Lincoln's nonpareil Second Inaugural Address.

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