Japanese emperor Naruhito ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne

By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press

Emperor Naruhito has ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, proclaiming himself Japan’s 126th emperor before a cheering audience.

At an enthronement ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Naruhito pledged to serve his constitutional duty as a symbol of the state and to stay close to the people.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe congratulated him and led three “banzai” cheers. The cheers traditionally means “ten thousand years” of long life.

Naruhito said after his enthronement: “I hereby swear that I will act according to the constitution and fulfil my responsibility as the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people of Japan, while always praying for the happiness of the people and the peace of the world as I always stand with the people.”

Japanese Empress Masako leaves the ceremony hall (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo/ AP)

Naruhito, wearing a traditional robe and a black headdress, appeared as a pair of black-robed chamberlains opened the purple curtains of the throne at the sound of a bell.

The throne, called Takamikura, is a 21ft high decorative structure resembling a gazebo. It was transported from the former Imperial Palace in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, where emperors lived until 150 years ago.

The enthronement ceremony is the high point of several succession rituals that began in May when Naruhito inherited the throne after the abdication of Akihito, his father. Naruhito is the 126th emperor in the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, which historians say goes back 1,500 years.

The proclamation is largely meant to allow the government to showcase the monarchy to win public support and to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage.

Despite the time, effort and cost put into preparations, the ceremony lasted only about 30 minutes.

Naruhito delivers his speech (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP)

The enthronement ceremony was originally modelled after one celebrated by the ancient Tang dynasty of China, and is the second of a three-part process following the May succession.

Next month sees the highly religious and divisive ritual of the Grand Harvest. Some experts have raised questions over the government’s funding of 16 billion yen (£115 million) for ceremonies containing religious rites.

Criticism was largely eclipsed by the festive mood, in part because Naruhito’s succession was by abdication, not by death, palace watchers said.

Mr Abe’s ultra-conservative government also granted pardons marking the occasion. The decision was published in the special edition of the official gazette, which provided for about 550,000 eligible applicants. The decision was not publicly debated.

The pre-war custom of clemency by the emperor has triggered criticism as being undemocratic and politically motivated. At the time of former emperor Akihito’s enthronement, 2.5 million people were given amnesty.

Royal watchers gather to celebrate outside the Imperial Palace (AP)

Earlier on Tuesday, the 59-year-old emperor put on a white robe and prayed at Kashikodokoro and two other shrines. The visits on Tuesday morning are to report to gods ahead of the ceremony, to be attended by 2,000 guests from in and outside Japan.

Enshrined at Kashikodokoro is the goddess Amaterasu, the mythological ancestress of Japan’s emperors.

Naruhito and Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, hosted a court banquet in the evening for about 400 guests, including foreign dignitaries and heads of Japan’s administrative, legislative and judicial branches and their spouses.

A parade originally planned for Tuesday afternoon has been postponed until November 10 due to a deadly typhoon that caused flooding and other damage in central and northern Japan.

The couple have been warmly welcomed by the Japanese public. They made positive impressions by freely conversing with US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania during their visit weeks after Naruhito’s succession in May, palace watchers say.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe leads the cheers for the emperor (Issei Kato/Pool Photo/AP)

“I think people have high expectations for the emperor who is fluent in foreign language and internationalised,” said historian and monarchy expert, Eiichi Miyashiro, also a journalist.

Naruhito is a historian, a viola player and an expert on water transport who studied at Oxford.

Masako, a Harvard-educated diplomat, has struggled for more than a decade since developing “adjustment disorder” after giving birth to their only child, Princess Aiko, and facing pressure to produce a boy in Japan’s monarchy, which only allows male heirs.

A shortage of males in the royal family has raised succession concerns. Naruhito has an 83-year-old uncle and two potential heirs – his younger brother Crown Prince Akishino and a 13-year-old nephew, prompting calls for a debate on allowing female emperors.

Mr Abe and his ultra-conservative supporters insist on male-only succession, while a majority of the general public support female emperors.