April 30, 2019
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Crown Prince Naruhito, known as an earnest man with a passion for water conservation, is poised to become Japan’s next emperor on Wednesday, a day after his father gave up the throne in the country’s first abdication in two centuries.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko stepped down on Tuesday after three decades as the nation’s top royals in a brief, simple ceremony, with Akihito thanking the people of Japan and saying he prayed for peace.
Though Naruhito, 59, technically succeeded his father just as Tuesday became Wednesday, his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne will be formalised in a mid-morning ceremony.
Naruhito, the first emperor born after World War Two and the first to be raised solely by his parents, said on his birthday in February that succeeding his father “makes me solemn”.
Given the backgrounds of Naruhito and his wife, Masako, a 55-year-old former diplomat – which include extended experience studying and living overseas – hopes are high that they may be more international in their outlook and closer to the lives of many Japanese.
The last imperial succession in 1989 took place during mourning for Akihito’s father, Hirohito.
This time the mood is more festive. Japan has been draped in banners welcoming Reiwa – the name of the new era for Naruhito’s reign – during an unprecedented 10-day holiday. Countdown events were held on Tuesday night.
In the first stage of his accession ceremony, imperial chamberlains will put the state and privy seals, along with cases containing two of Japan’s “Three Sacred Treasures” – a sword and a jewel – on desks in front of the new emperor as proof of his rightful succession.
It will be observed by a small group including adult male royalty and representatives of the three branches of the government, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet.
Akihito and Michiko will not be present, but Satsuki Katayama, the only woman in Abe’s cabinet, will become the first woman in modern history to attend.
After that, female royalty will enter the room and Naruhito will make his first public remarks as emperor. His formal enthronement will take place at a more elaborate ceremony in October attended by dignitaries from Japan and around the world.
Naruhito’s passion for water conservation dates from his study of medieval transportation and includes an interest in other environmental topics. Masako has expressed an interest in topics related to children in trouble or living in poverty.
Though Masako struggled with a stress-related illness described by palace officials as an “adjustment disorder” that kept her largely out of the public eye for years, her public appearances have recently increased.
Their only child is a daughter, Aiko, 17, who cannot inherit the throne. Naruhito’s heirs are his younger brother, Prince Akishino, followed by Akishino’s 12-year-old son, Hisahito.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Linda Sieg, Malcolm Foster and Darren Schuettler)