Japan's new emperor takes the throne in a gorgeous, ancient ceremony


World leaders gathered in Tokyo to witness Naruhito's enthronement, complete with sacred treasures and traditional outfits


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Japan's Empress Masako leaves after a ceremony to proclaim Emperor Naruhito's enthronement at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Rarely seen outfits, elaborate thrones and ancient paraphernalia adorned Tuesday’s sacred and sumptuous ceremony marking the formal ascension of Emperor Naruhito to Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne.

The new emperor took the throne earlier this year after his father Akihito’s abdication, but the proclamation ceremony cemented the transition in stunning style.

Here are some of the elements that were on show:

Imperial Thrones

The emperor and empress are each given an enormous throne, consisting of a relatively restrained seat set inside an elaborate canopy on a fenced platform.

The emperor’s eight-tonne throne is called “Takamikura”, while the empress’s smaller “august seat” is known as “Michodai”.

The structures are made of lacquered cypress wood and were disassembled for transport from the ancient capital of Kyoto to Tokyo for the ceremony.

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The emperor’s seat sits inside a canopy featuring rich purple curtains hanging from a roof decorated with gold and 16-petal chrysanthemum crests.

Underneath is a rectangular stage with low red fencing and side panels painted with legendary animals.

On the points of the octagonal roof sit golden phoenixes, with another larger version of the bird atop the roof’s peak.

To either side of the emperor’s chair are desks where a sacred sword and jewel, part of the imperial regalia, and seals are placed.

But the emperor did not actually sit on the throne during the ceremony, instead remaining standing throughout.

Emperor Naruhito leaves the state room after a ceremony to proclaim his enthronement to the world.
Photo: Reuters

The new emperor’s clothes

For the ceremony, the emperor wore a silk outfit in the “sokutai” or ceremonial style. The outfit is now rarely seen and is dominated by a voluminous draped brown-gold outer robe with long, wide sleeves and a cinched waist.

Royal attire often includes motifs of birds, as they were considered divine envoys in ancient times and the emperor’s outer garment is decorated with a mythical Chinese phoenix, believed to symbolise the arrival of peace.

The crowning glory of the emperor’s outfit is the kanmuri hat, which consists of a simple flat black base and a towering black tail at the back that extends upright 60 centimetres (about 24 inches).

Emperor Naruhito leaves following a ceremony to proclaim his enthronement to the world, called Sokuirei-Seiden-no-gi, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Photo: EPA

Fit for an empress

Empress Masako wore an elaborate outfit commonly known as “junihitoe” or many-layered robe.

Her hair was sculpted into a style that swept up and out to the sides, with a long ponytail extending from the back and a large golden hairpiece pinned above her forehead.

The elaborate traditional outfit, which can be hard to walk in because of its weight, is rarely seen outside imperial rituals and weddings.

Japan's Empress Masako leaves after a ceremony to proclaim Emperor Naruhito's enthronement at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Photo: AFP

The sacred treasures

The ceremony would not be complete without the presence of the “sacred treasures”. Japanese mythology has it that the sun goddess Amaterasu bequeathed the regalia to the imperial line two millennia ago.

The treasures are the “Yata no Kagami”, a mirror, “Kusanagi no Tsurugi”, a sword, and the “Yasakani no Magatama”, an unspecified jewel.

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The possession of the “three sacred treasures” is considered crucial evidence of an emperor’s legitimacy, but there are no photos of them and even the emperor cannot see them.

The treasures were handed to the new emperor in the initial enthronement ceremony held on May 1.

During the proclamation ceremony, a replica sword and the original jewel were brought in wrapped in cloth. Both are kept at the palace, along with a replica mirror that is not brought out for ceremonies.