Japan Marks Emperor’s Anniversary
TOKYO (AP) _ Emperor Akihito marked the 10th anniversary of his ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne _ the world’s oldest _ with a parade, music and solemn words under drizzly skies Friday.
``I had hoped it would be good weather today, but it rained. I am afraid that you all got wet and cold,″ Akihito told the crowd gathered before the palace Friday night. ``I am grateful for your gathering, nevertheless, to celebrate my accession.″
Daylong celebrations in and around the moat-ringed palace in Tokyo had a festive air, a break with the staid aura of most royal events. More than 120,000 people watched the parade through Tokyo.
Buses brought people in from the provinces. Many merrymakers wore the short, kimono-like happi coat and headwrap usually brought out for neighborhood religious festivals. Some visitors sold sweets and other sold persimmons.
Guests included U.S. major league baseball star, Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo. At the National Theater, Yo-Yo Ma played the cello, which is also Akihito’s instrument.
``The last emperor didn’t appear on TV much, but I see this emperor often, and I feel more friendly toward him,″ said Tomoko Onishi, 24, watching a parade of white-robed dancers and ``taiko″ drummers thunder past the palace.
Today’s lessened role of the Chrysanthemum Throne in Japanese life is still too much for some. Officials said there were several small protests by leftists who want to do away with the monarchy. Police said there were no arrests.
``The emperor and empress have diligently sought to get closer to the people,″ the national Asahi Evening News said Friday, ``in contrast to the long-held image of aloofness that characterized the 63 years of the previous reign.″
Akihito’s father, Hirohito, assumed the throne in 1926 as a deity, a direct descendant of the gods. Though he renounced his divinity in 1945, as demanded by World War II’s victors, his enigmatic manner and obscure way of speaking kept him a distant figure to most Japanese.
Akhito and Empress Michiko have visited disaster victims and centers for the handicapped in efforts to cultivate a somewhat warmer image.
According to legend, Akihito is 125th in a royal line begun by Emperor Jimmu in 660 B.C. He took the throne after his father died on Jan. 7, 1989, and was the first to start his reign as a symbol of the nation rather than a living god. His official enthronement was completed in November the following year.
His reign has included some tough times, with Japan struggling out of its worst economic downturn since the war and fretting about social problems, such as unruly youth and sexual harassment.
Reflecting on his changing nation, the emperor said earlier this week that challenges ahead included the weak economy, the rapid aging of society and the spread of information technology.
``But ... I firmly believe that the wisdom of each and every Japanese and cooperation from international society will tide us over,″ Akihito said in comments released on Friday.
A series of speeches given at the National Theater praised Akihito and the empress for their dedication to comforting disaster victims.
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said: ``We were very much touched and encouraged both to see the emperor and empress pray for people’s happiness and peace and take people’s sorrows as their own.″
He then led the 1,300 guests in three cheers of ``banzai″ _ or 10,000 years _ for the royal couple.