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Emperor Naruhito vows to fulfill his responsibility according to Constitution

Emperor Naruhito gives a speech during the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony in the "Matsu no Ma" room at the Imperial Palace, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on May 1, 2019. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO -- New Emperor Naruhito took part in a ceremony called "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" in the "Matsu no Ma" room of the Imperial Palace here on the morning of May 1, in which he gave his first address to the nation as Emperor.

"I ... 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," he said.

With Emperor Naruhito's ascension to the throne at 12 a.m. on May 1, the era name changed from Heisei to Reiwa.

The "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony was attended by about 290 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the two other heads of the three branches government, prefectural governors, and others. Crown Prince Akishino, who is first in line to the throne, and other adult male and female members of the Imperial Family were also in attendance.

Emperor Naruhito was dressed in a swallow-tailed coat, and new Empress Masako in a long dress. They entered "Matsu no Ma" at around 11:10 a.m., and stood on a stage installed for the occasion.

"When I think about the important responsibility I have assumed, I am filled with a sense of solemnity," Emperor Naruhito said. He also expressed respect for Emperor Emeritus Akihito's dedication to "sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people" during his tenure as monarch, and said that he, too, would "act according to the Constitution." Prime Minister Abe subsequently gave a speech as a representative of the Japanese people in celebration of Emperor Naruhito's ascension to the throne.

Prior to the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony, Emperor Naruhito attended his first official ceremony after assuming the throne, called "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi" and starting at about 10:30 a.m.

During the ritual in the "Matsu no Ma" room, chamberlains placed the sacred sword and jewel, two of the Imperial Regalia, and the State and Privy seals that Emperor Naruhito will use in acts in matters of state, onto a stand set up in front of the new Emperor.

The Emperor then left the room, accompanied by chamberlains holding the sword, jewel and the seals. The rite ended in about five minutes.

Following precedent, Imperial Family members present at the "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi" ritual were limited to adult men who are in line to the throne. In this case there were just two: Crown Prince Akishino, who is first in line to the throne, and Prince Hitachi, the younger brother of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who is third in line. Crown Prince Akishino's son Prince Hisahito, who is second in line, could not attend because he is still a child.

Twenty-six additional people attended, such as the heads of the three branches of government, including Prime Minister Abe, and Cabinet ministers. In the previous "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi" in 1989, there were no women, but Minister of State for Regional Revitalization Satsuki Katayama was present for the ceremony this time.

Neither the Constitution nor the Imperial House Law has detailed stipulations on rituals relating to the ascension of a new emperor to the throne. A Cabinet decision was made May 1 to designate both the "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi" and "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremonies acts relating to matters of state. However, some have said that the "Sokui-go-Choken-no-gi" ceremony, in which the Emperor gave a speech and the prime minister responded with his own, was inappropriate under a Constitution stating that sovereignty resides with the people, as the format was reminiscent of a lord-subject relationship.

The "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi" ceremony also attracted criticism for the use of objects that have their basis in mythology. The ritual was implemented without thorough debate, however, and the precedent set in the shift from the Showa to the Heisei era was followed in the shift from Heisei to Reiwa. At the same time, however, what was called "hoto," or a respectful term meaning "a reply to the throne" to refer to the prime minister's speech in the previous era change, was simply called "kokumin daihyo no ji," or "message from a representative for the people.

Neither Emperor Emeritus Akihito nor Empress Emerita Michiko, who stepped away from their public duties on April 30, attended the two ceremonies. Imperial Family members under the age of 20 were unable to attend per tradition.

In the afternoon of May 1, new Emperor Naruhito and new Empress Masako were scheduled to visit the home of Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, renamed Fukiage Sento Residence, to offer their first greetings since Emperor Naruhito assumed the throne. After that, celebrations for the Imperial Couple attended by members of the Imperial Family and Imperial Household Agency staff will continue until around 6 p.m., at the former Togu Palace where the Imperial Couple lived as crown prince and crown princess, and has now been renamed Akasaka Palace.

The Emperor will make an appearance at Chowaden hall at the Imperial Palace on May 4 to greet members of the general public who want to celebrate his rise to the throne. The "Shukuga-Onretsu-no-Gi" ceremony, which entails a parade in Tokyo and is meant to announce the Emperor's ascension domestically and internationally, is planned for Oct. 22.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takashima, City News Department)

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