Japan’s new emperor ascends throne vowing to emulate his father and fulfill duties as ‘symbol of the state’

Delivering his first speech since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne, Japan’s new emperor vowed Wednesday to “act according to the Constitution” and fulfill his role as the symbol of the state while “always turning my thoughts to the people” in emulation of his father.

“In acceding to the Throne, I swear that I will reflect deeply on the course followed by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and bear in mind the path trodden by past emperors, and will devote myself to self-improvement,” Emperor Naruhito said in the brief speech — broadcast live on TV — before the heads of the government, legislature and judiciary in a ceremony attended by imperial family members and other government officials.

“In accordance with the Constitution, I hereby vow to fulfill my duties as the symbol of the state and the unity of people, as well as sincerely wish for the happiness of people, the prosperity of the nation and peace of the world.”

It was Emperor Naruhito’s first address to the nation since taking the throne at midnight following the abdication of his father, Akihito, now referred to as the Emperor Emeritus, on Tuesday.

Born after World War II, the 59-year-old became the “symbol” of the state overnight. Under Japan’s postwar Constitution, the emperor is barred from exercising political power.

The abdication put an end to the 30-year run of the Heisei (Achieving Peace) imperial era, in turn ushering in a new era called Reiwa (Beautiful Harmony) at midnight — a moment marked by nationwide celebrations.

At the start of his speech, the new monarch said he is “filled with a sense of solemnity” as he thinks about the heavy responsibility he was undertaking with his new role.

His speech was then followed by remarks from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who “sincerely” congratulated the new emperor on his enthronement.

“Regarding His Majesty the Emperor as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people, we — amid the turbulence of the international situation — are determined to carve out Japan’s bright future full of peace and hope that we can be proud of, as well as an age where a culture can be born and nurtured as people’s minds are drawn beautifully together,” Abe said.

Prior to the speech, the emperor, dressed in a Western tailcoat, attended a regalia inheritance ritual in the Imperial Palace’s most prestigious room, the so-called Pine Chamber.

In this ceremony, chamberlains were seen carrying a sword and a jewel — two of the three sacred treasures of the imperial family — as well as the state and privy seals before placing them on tables, in a gesture acknowledging his succession.

While attended by male adults from the imperial family, the inheritance ceremony was off-limits to its female members, including the new empress, Masako, taking a page from the last such ceremony in 1989, when female members were similarly barred from attending. The existing law stipulates only males can accede to the throne.

The government, however, had decided to allow members of the Cabinet to attend the rite as observers regardless of sex, paving the way for its only female minister, Satsuki Katayama, who is in charge of regional revitalization, to do so.

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