After his elder brother, Emperor Naruhito, became king last year after their father’s abdication, Japan formally proclaimed Crown Prince Akishino heir to the throne.
At the Royal House, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the day-long ceremonies took place. Besides the Emperor and Empress, the events were attended by various other royal family members, and also Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and representatives of foreign diplomats.
“I deeply ponder the responsibility of Crown Prince and will discharge my duties,” said Akishino in front of the attendees, most of whom were wearing masks, in footage by public broadcaster NHK.
Also, for the crown prince, the case included the traditional ritual of inheriting a “guardian sword.” The sword was handed down to Akishino by Emperor Naruhito, symbolizing the next successor’s judgment to the throne.
The event was initially planned for April, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed and pared-back as infections kept rising. Wide activities have been canceled, such as a celebratory dinner.
Emperor Emeritus Akihito officially abdicated last April, becoming the country’s first king in two centuries to step down from the Throne of Chrysanthemum. He cited health reasons for standing down, despite undergoing heart surgery and beating prostate cancer in recent years.
His son, Naruhito’s inauguration, ushered in the reign of “Reiwa.” Its era marks the name of each emperor’s reign; the name “Reiwa” was adapted from an anthology of classical poetry from the 8th century, meaning “beautiful harmony.”
Akishino, 54, is now the first in the throne line. He is one of three heirs, the others being Hisahito, his 14-year-old sibling, and Akihito’s younger brother, Prince Hitachi, 84.
Under Japanese law, the throne can only be inherited by men — so Naruhito’s only child, Princess Aiko, 18 years old, becomes ineligible.
This wasn’t always the case; for many decades, empresses ruled Japan at different times. But as Japan modernized, the emperor’s position was modified by leaders, and a male-only succession was created, officially banning women from being enthroned in 1889.
The introduction of legislation to encourage women to rise to the succession has also been debated in the past few decades, but the birth of Hisahito, the first male heir, was born in 40 years and stopped that debate.
After Princess Ayako married a normal citizen, Japan’s succession law gained national attention in 2018 — a move that pressured her to disavow her royal title and allowances. For the male members of the royal family, the same law does not apply.
Reforms to the law are anathema to progressives, but disagreements about achieving a seamless transition are likely to intensify.