- Imperial Household Agency of Japan/Handout via Reuters
- Japan got a new emperor on Wednesday.
- Emperor Naruhito was presented with the country’s imperial treasures – a sword, a mirror, and a jewel – in a ritual at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
- Controversially, the women in his family weren’t allowed to go, part of a wider pattern of Japan’s royal traditions explicitly favoring men.
- The only female guest at the ceremony was Satsuki Katayama, the one woman in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.
- Naruhito later gave a public address – where women were present – in which he pledged to uphold peace and be a worthy emperor to the Japanese people.
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Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, officially ascended the throne on Wednesday with an elaborate ceremony which the women in his family were barred from attending.
Naruhito, dressed in a Western morning suit, symbolically inherited the country’s imperial treasures – a sword, a mirror, and a jewel – in an enthronement ceremony at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
The ritual is known as Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi.
- Imperial Household Agency of Japan. Imperial Household Agency of Japan/Handout via Reuters
Japanese officials wrapped up the royal treasures in cloth and presented them to Naruhito, who accepted them.
The items used in the ceremony were likely replicas. Nobody has ever seen the imperial treasures, which are believed to be passed down from Japan’s Shinto gods, in real life, the BBC reported. Their origins and whereabouts are a mystery.
Naruhito’s father and predecessor, Akihito, marked his last day on the throne on Tuesday in a mystic Shinto ceremony with the imperial treasures as well. Akihito abdicated the throne, citing health reasons.
Watch a video of the enthronement ceremony here:
No girls allowed
Wednesday’s enthronement ceremony was attended by Japanese government officials, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet, and Naruhito’s younger brother Fumihito, who became Crown Prince when his brother ascended.
The event was controversially closed to the female members of the royal family – a traditional that the Japanese government chose to retain despite widespread criticism.
This means that Naruhito’s wife -Empress Masako – and his mother – former Empress Michiko – were not allowed to join.
The only female guest at the ceremony was Satsuki Katayama, the one woman in Abe’s cabinet. Japan’s Imperial House Law does not restrict the gender of commoners attending the ceremony.
The one other woman seen in the ceremony’s footage appeared to be a palace aide.
- Global News/YouTube; INSIDER
Females have a diminished role in Japan’s royal family. Women born into the royal family are forbidden by law to inherit the throne, and are required to leave the household when they marry.
Naruhito and his wife, then-Crown Princess Masako, were under immense pressure to produce a male heir.
After their only child, Princess Aiko, was born in 2001, the Japanese government considered changing the laws which say only men can inherit the throne. However, in 2006 Naruhito’s brother Fumihito announced that his wife was pregnant with a son, so the government scrapped their plans.
Fumihito’s son, Prince Hisahito, is now second in line to the throne after his father. Princess Aiko will not become empress.
- Kyodo News via Getty
Shortly after Wednesday’s enthronement ceremony, Naruhito gave his first public address as emperor. The women in his family were allowed to attend this event.
Standing next to his wife, Naruhito pledged to the nation that he would follow his father’s footsteps in pursuing peace and being a worthy emperor to the Japanese people.
- Imperial Household Agency of Japan/Handout via Reuters
Emperor Akihito, Naruhito’s father, made his mark as an emperor who was closer to the people than his predecessors. In a break from tradition, Akihito traveled around the country to visit citizens, notably victims of natural disasters.
Japanese emperors are traditionally seen as demigods, but Akihito disregarded this when he kneeled beside survivors of a deadly earthquake in Kobe in 1995.
As Crown Prince and Crown Princess, Naruhito and Masako have also made yearly visits to the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan, which was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Naruhito said in 2017 that emperors should “always be close to the people in their thoughts, and share their joys and sorrows,” according to The Japan Times.
The name of Naruhito’s imperial era – Reiwa – roughly translates to “pursuing harmony.” The imperial calendar reset at midnight, with Wednesday the start of the first year of the Reiwa period.
Wednesday’s festivities were kept relatively, as Naruhito’s official enthronement ceremony will take place on October 22. Dignitaries from some 180 countries are expected to attend.
- Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
To celebrate Naruhito’s ascent to the throne, the Japanese government created a one-off, ten-day public holiday, which started on April 27 and ends on May 6.
While many citizens are happily going on vacation, others have complained about extra childcare burden, lost wages, and the risk of stock market turmoil that the extended break brings.
Hundreds of people also crowded Tokyo’s streets to watch Naruhito’s motorcade to the Imperial Palace.
- Kyodo via Reuters
Not everyone is celebrating the new emperor, though. About 150 people gathered near downtown Tokyo’s busy Shinjuku Station and called for an end to the country’s imperial system.
They said that having an emperor goes against their constitutional right to legal equality, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping both sent messages of congratulations to Naruhito, The Associated Press reported.