TOKYO – Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako paraded in central Tokyo on Sunday as about 120,000 flag-waving onlookers lined the streets in celebration of the emperor’s enthronement earlier in the year.
The parade started at the Imperial Palace at 3 p.m. under sunny skies and steadily proceeded at a speed of some 10 kilometers per hour along the 4.6-km route. Well-wishers waved small rising-sun flags and cheered as the smiling imperial couple waved back at them from the back seat of a luxury convertible sedan.
Many people could also be seen reaching out with their cameras and smartphones trying to capture an image of the 59-year-old emperor, dressed in a tailcoat decorated with medals, and the 55-year-old empress, who donned a long dress and tiara.
Some people had waited for hours to get just a glimpse of the imperial couple. The turnout of some 119,000 was 2,000 more than that of the 1990 parade celebrating the enthronement of the current emperor’s father, former Emperor Akihito, who abdicated in April.
“I was touched by this parade as I was able to see (the emperor’s) face,” said Atsuko Yanai, 46, who waited for over four hours to see the couple.
Empress Masako, a Harvard and Oxford-educated former diplomat who has been expanding the scope of her activities after years of struggling with a stress-linked illness, appeared teary-eyed at one point during the 30-minute event.
The couple’s first parade since their marriage in 1993, which drew about 191,500 spectators, was pushed back nearly three weeks in consideration of the hardships people have been suffering in the wake of deadly Typhoon Hagibis last month.
The convertible carrying the two was followed by vehicles, including one carrying Crown Prince Fumihito — the younger brother of the emperor — and his wife, Crown Princess Kiko. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also in the procession.
Forty-six vehicles in total forming a 400-meter motorcade passed the Metropolitan Police Department and the main gate of the Diet building before arriving at the couple’s residence in the Akasaka Estate.
Tight security was in place, with up to 26,000 police officers being deployed. An officer stood every several meters on both sides of roads where spectators gathered.
They also conducted ID checks at buildings along the route, and held baggage inspections at 40 checkpoints from the morning, even asking people who brought bottled beverages to drink some on the spot. Some people missed seeing the parade up close due to the time-consuming checks.
There was no trouble or arrests made during the event, according to the police.
Emperor Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, the day after former Emperor Akihito became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in about 200 years.
The parade was the last state occasion held to mark the emperor’s enthronement, but he is scheduled to take part in another key ritual known as Daijosai, or the two-day Great Thanksgiving Ceremony, to be held in Shinto style from Thursday.
The black Toyota Motor Corp. Century used in the parade was picked from a pool of cars from five automakers, taking safety and environmental performance into consideration, among other factors, according to the Imperial Household Agency.
The vehicle, which bears the imperial chrysanthemum crest, is estimated to have cost around 80 million yen ($750,000), including remodeling expenses, according to the agency. It is scheduled to be displayed to the public at the state guest houses in Tokyo and Kyoto.
The emperor officially proclaimed his enthronement on Oct. 22 before some 2,000 Japanese and foreign dignitaries in the “Sokuirei Seiden no gi” ceremony, equivalent to a coronation.
The parade was initially scheduled to take place on the same day as the ceremony but was postponed after the typhoon lashed wide areas of Japan, including Tokyo, and left 90 people dead and five others missing. It also flooded tens of thousands of homes.
“We’ve been struggling after being hit by the disaster, but I was heartened by the positive news,” said Katsuo Gunji, 94, who watched the parade on television at an evacuation center in hard-hit Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture.
“I am grateful that they’ve shifted the schedule in consideration of the people affected, but I have no time to watch TV,” said Toshio Ouchi, an 86-year-old resident of the town, who was busy cleaning up and repairing his home.
During a national festival on Saturday to celebrate the emperor’s enthronement at the Imperial Palace Plaza, the emperor said major damage from the typhoon and other recent disasters “has seriously hurt my heart.”
On Oct. 15, the couple released a statement offering condolences to the victims and wishing for a swift recovery. The government formally decided on the postponement of the parade, a state occasion, three days later.