TOKYO – Naruhito, the new emperor of Japan, said on Wednesday that he would follow the course charted by his father, Akihito, during his first speech as the new holder of the Chrysanthemum Throne after his ascension ceremony.
The emperor, whose father abdicated on Tuesday, was speaking at his first audience with representatives of the Japanese people at the Imperial Palace, following a ritual ceremony in which he inherited the sacred regalia and the imperial seals that symbolize the power of the emperor.
“In acceding to the Throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus (Akihito),” Naruhito said, while also promising to “act according to the Constitution and fulfill my responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan.”
“When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity,” the 59-year-old said at the start of the second ceremony, which was attended by 266 political representatives and members of the Imperial Household.
Naruhito, accompanied by his spouse, Empress Masako, dedicated much of his brief speech to his predecessor and father, whose reign – known as the “Heisei” era, the Japanese word for “peace” – was defined by pacifism, his efforts to heal the wounds left over from Japan’s former empire and for his proximity to the Japanese people, many of whom were victims of severe natural disasters that struck during his three decades in power.
In addition to continuing his father’s work and maintaining Akihito’s legacy, Naruhito said he would devote himself “to self-improvement” and dedicate himself to protecting the constitution 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,” Naruhito concluded.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was present at both ceremonies held on Wednesday, welcomed the new emperor on behalf of the nation.
“We respect Your Majesty as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People. In a drastically-changing global situation, we are determined to ensure a glorious future for Japan, a country that is peaceful, full of hope, and a place that we can be proud of,” Abe said.
“We are also resolved to create an era in which people unite their hearts and develop their culture. We sincerely hope that the Reiwa era will be a peaceful one and the Imperial Family will further prosper,” the prime minister added.
Naruhito’s ascension marks the beginning of a new era in Japan, dubbed “Reiwa,” which roughly translates to “beautiful harmony.”
The Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi ceremony was preceded by another event, called Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi, at which Naruhito received various symbolic imperial artifacts.
The ceremony, which took place in the State Room at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, was attended by the male members of the Imperial Household: Crown Prince Akishino and Prince Hitachi, the younger brother of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, as well as representatives of the country’s political authorities, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the heads of both houses of the country’s Diet (parliament), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Abe’s cabinet ministers.
Female members of the royal family, including Empress Masako, were not present, but they were allowed to attend subsequent ceremonies later on Wednesday.
For the first time in modern history, a woman, Satsuki Katayama, the minister for women’s empowerment, witnessed the ceremony, public broadcaster NHK reported.
According to semi-mythological tradition, Naruhito is now the 126th consecutive Japanese emperor.
Japan’s monarchy is generally considered to be the longest-lived continuous hereditary royal dynasty in the world.
In 2016, Akihito announced in a rare televised address that he felt he could no longer fulfill his duties due to his advanced age and ailing health.
Although there was no legal framework to allow for a living monarch to abdicate, his popularity triggered a wave of sympathy from the Japanese population, prompting the Diet to pass a law permitting him to step down from the throne he has occupied since the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, in 1989.
The last time a living emperor stepped down was in 1817, when Kokaku ceded the throne to his son, Ninko.