Enthronement of the Japanese Emperor
The enthronement of the Emperor of Japan is an ancient ceremony which marks the accession of a new ruler to the Chrysanthemum Throne, in the world's oldest continuous hereditary monarchy. Various ancient regalia are given to the new sovereign during the course of the rite.
Presentation of the Three Sacred Treasures
The Japanese enthronement ceremony consists of three main parts. The first is the simplest, and takes place immediately after the death of the preceding sovereign. The Heir Apparent is formally presented with boxes containing two of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan: (1) a replica sword representing the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (lit. "Grasscutter Sword") (草薙劍), though the original is allegedly enshrined at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya; (2) the Yasakani no magatama (八尺瓊曲玉), a necklace of comma-shaped stone beads. Unlike most other monarchies, Japan has no crown in its regalia. These three objects were originally said to have been given by the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-ōmikami, to her grandson when he first descended to earth and became the founder of the imperial dynasty. The most important of these three Treasures is the mirror, which is enshrined in the Ise Shrine as the go-shintai (御神体), or god body of the Sun Goddess herself. Imperial messengers are sent to this shrine, as well as to the tomb-shrines of the four emperors whose reigns immediately preceded his, to inform them of the new emperor’s accession.
The second part of the ceremony, called the "Sokui-Rei", is the enthronement ritual itself; the last such ceremony was held in 1990 for the current sovereign, Akihito. This ancient rite was traditionally held in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, but now takes place in Tokyo. Only part of the ritual is public, and the regalia itself is generally seen only by the emperor and a few Shinto priests. An account in Time magazine from the enthronement of Akihito's father Hirohito in 1928 reveals a few details: First came a three-hour ceremony in which the new emperor ritually informed his ancestors that he had taken the throne. This was followed by the enthronement itself, which took place in an enclosure called the Takamikura, containing a great square pedestal upholding three octagonal pedestals topped by a simple chair. This was surrounded by an octagonal pavilion with curtains, surmounted by a great golden Phoenix.
The new emperor proceeded to the chair, where after being seated, the Kusanagi and Yasakani no magatama were placed on stands next to him. A simple wooden sceptre was presented to the monarch, who faced his Prime Minister standing in an adjacent courtyard, representing the Japanese people. The emperor offered an address announcing his accession to the throne, calling upon his subjects to single-mindedly assist him in attaining all of his aspirations. His Prime Minister replied with an address promising fidelity and devotion, followed by three shouts of "Banzai" from all of those present. The timing of this last event was synchronized, so that Japanese around the world could join in the "Banzai" shout at precisely the moment that it was being offered in Kyoto or in Tokyo.
The Daijo-sai or the Great Thanksgiving Festival is the third and most important—and also the most controversial—of the inauguration rituals, because it is the one in which the emperor is united to his Imperial Ancestress in such a way as to share in a unique way in her divinity. The ceremony is not mentioned in the Constitution imposed by the American occupation forces, and so its present constitutionality was questioned at the time of the accession of the present emperor Akihito.
First, two special rice paddies are chosen and purified by elaborate Shinto purification rites. The families of the farmers who are to cultivate the rice in these paddies must be in perfect health. Once the rice is grown and harvested, it is stored in a special Shinto shrine as its goshintai (御神体), the embodiment of a kami or divine force. Each kernel must be whole and unbroken, and is individually polished before it is boiled. Some sake is also brewed from this rice.
Meanwhile two thatched roof two-room huts are built within a corresponding special enclosure, using a native Japanese building style which precedes all Chinese cultural influence. One room contains a large couch at its center; the second is used by musicians. All furniture and household items also preserve these earliest, and thus most purely Japanese forms: e.g., all pottery objects are fired but unglazed. These two structures represent the house of the preceding emperor and that of the new emperor. In earlier times, when the head of a household died his house was burned; before the founding of Kyoto, whenever an emperor died his entire capital city was burned as a rite of purification.
After a ritual bath the emperor is dressed entirely in the white silk dress of a Shinto priest, but with a special long train. Surrounded by courtiers, the emperor solemnly enters first the enclosure and then each of these huts in turn and performs the same ritual—from 6:30 to 9:30 PM in the first, and in the second from 12:30 to 3:30 AM—on the same night. A mat is unrolled before him and then rolled up again as he walks, so that his feet never touch the ground. A special umbrella is held over the sovereign's head, in which the shade hangs from a phoenix carved at the end of the pole and prevents any defilement of his sacred person coming from the air above him. Kneeling on a mat situated to face the Grand Shrine of Ise, the emperor makes an offering of the sacred rice, the sake made from this rice, millet, fish and a variety of other foods from both the land and the sea, to Amaterasu-ōmikami. Then he eats some of this sacred rice himself, as an act of divine communion which consummates his singular unity with Amaterasu-ōmikami, thus making him (in Shinto tradition) the intermediary between Amaterasu-ōmikami and the Japanese people. This is followed by three banquets and a visit to the Shrines of his Imperial Ancestors.
While many parts of the enthronement ritual take place in private, a video of the second part of the enthronement ceremony for Emperor Akihito in 1990 may be seen at Celebration Parade of His Majesty the Emperor.
- Monday, Nov. 19, 1928 (November 19, 1928). "Emperor Enthroned — TIME". Time.com. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
- Schoenberger, Karl (1990-11-23). "Akihito in Final Ritual of Passage". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- Weisman, Steven R. (1990-11-23). "Akihito Performs His Solitary Rite". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-02.