Hundreds of dignitaries from around the world gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan on October 22, 2019 for a ritual-bound, centuries-old ceremony called the “Sokuirei Seiden no Gi” as Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially proclaimed his enthronement. Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce Past Chair Christine Kubota was nominated along with Governor David Ige by the Kizuna Group as the two representatives from the State of Hawai’i to attend this special occasion. Christine was recognized for her dedicated leadership as the Tri-Chair of the Gannenmono festivities. Read below to hear all about this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
On October 20, 2019 I was one of seven representatives of Japanese-American ancestry from the U.S. (together with other Nikkei representatives from around the world) to attend his Majesty Emperor Naruhito’s Enthronement Ceremony, Prime Minister Abe’s Banquet in Commemoration of the Enthronement and a Post Enthronement Banquet at the Imperial Palace with their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
The U.S. entourage consisted of representatives from Washington D.C. (Mrs. Irene Hirano Inouye and former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta), from California (Mr. Thomas Iino and U.S. Representative of California Mark Takano), from Seattle (Ms. Lori Matsukawa – former TV news reporter) and from Hawaii (Governor David Y. Ige and myself) [Photo #1]. We spent the most momentous five days in Tokyo. Upon arrival in Japan, we were welcomed at a reception hosted by the Association of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad where we were able to meet the representatives from other countries 35 in all. Many were Japanese kunsho (medal) recipients and some had visited Hawaii for the GANNENMONO event last year. Many representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) who served as our hosts were also in attendance and we spent the evening anxious about the activities that were to take place the following day. Speeches were conducted in Japanese, English, Spanish and Portuguese with Nikkei representatives (amongst others) from Amazonas, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Uruguay, Palau, Paraguay, Philippines and the U.S.
The SOKUIREI-SEIDEN-NO GI – the most sacred of events would take place at the Imperial Palace. The gentlemen were all in their morning coats; the ladies in long dresses [Photo #2].
We were escorted to our seats in the Shakkyo-no-Ma (or Drawing Room) and waited for about an hour for the program to begin. We waited for their Majesties the Emperor and Empress to appear and ascend to the Takamikura – Imperial Throne for the Emperor and the Michodai – August Seat for the Empress that were located in the Seiden (State Hall). Imagine the Imperial Palace as a rectangle clock with a large garden in the center – the Seiden no Ma would be situated at 12:00 and our room would be diagonally across at 4:00-5:00. We saw former prime ministers, queens, kings and foreign dignitaries arrive and head to their seats in the Grand Hall, Drawing Room and Lobby of the Chowaden Reception Hall (8:00-5:00). The musicians were situated in the Homei-Den at 3:00.
There were about 250 people in our room while the other 2,000 guests were scattered around the garden fronting the Seiden. A ring of a bell advised us of the arrival of the Imperial Family – slowly but surely their Royal Highnesses Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko in their beautiful traditional kimonos (weighing 20 – 30 lbs.) arrived with an entourage of other family members. It took about five minutes for them to reach the Seiden area; they stood still for ten minutes while waiting for their Majesties Emperor and Empress to appear in the Seiden Matsu-no Ma from behind the two most beautiful thrones that travelled to the palace from Kyoto. As the coverings of each of the thrones slowly opened, their Majesties Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako appeared seated on their respective thrones and paid their respects. They looked so regal and grand. The Imperial Address explained that this Ceremony of Enthronement was to proclaim the enthronement to those at home and abroad; that he reflected upon the more than 30 years of prayer by His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus for the happiness of the people and world peace; and pledging his responsibility as the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people of Japan while wishing for happiness of the people and peace of the world. The message was powerful yet heartwarming.
A congratulatory message from Prime Minister Abe was followed by three cheers of BANZAI for the Emperor. We often celebrate with the Banzai cheer in Hawaii but this one brought goose bumps on my arms as we raised our hands praising the Emperor “Tenno Heika Banzai” The ceremony itself was short – 20 minutes at most – but it was a very intense symbolic ceremony for the world to see.
The BANQUET IN COMMEMORATION OF THE ENTHRONEMENT took place on the following evening where Prime Minister Abe invited over 900 guests. A five course dinner was served after the most spectacular entertainment of Kyogen, Kabuki, and Bunraku performances. It is unusual or more so impossible to see the three forms of art performed together at the same time. It was the most amazing piece of SANBASO I had ever seen. The Bunraku doll that was controlled by three handlers would dance and move exactly the same way as the other two professional Kyogen and Kabuki performers. This was followed by a spectacular Noh Dance. Another amazing feat was the 100 or so wait help that synchronized their service of the five course meal to the 900 guests. That also looked like a dance as each course was timely placed with each guest. There were famous people everywhere to include all of the ministers and legislators of Japan, the prime ministers, prince and princesses of other countries….we could see the name cards on the dining tables that helped us to identify who was who. I was able to meet with Defense Minister Kono who came by our tables to say hello; chat with a Cardinal from the Vatican; take a photo of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and introduced myself to a representative from Bermuda who shared that he had done his internship (he was a surgeon) in Liliha at St. Francis Hospital. It was a wonderful venue to see and meet the world [Photo #3].
On Friday, the POST ENTHRONEMENT BANQUET took place at the Imperial Palace. This was a formal luncheon with the Imperial family with around 400 guests. We were again back at the palace. We were taken to Homei-den (State Banquet Hall) with the shiniest black lacquer chairs with gold chrysanthemums lining each table. A tray with our lunch was located on the left; while a “bento box” was placed on the right. The tray housed seven beautiful ceramic pieces filled with a persimmon dish, sushi rice, sashimi of koi and abalone and a poached fish entrée [Photo #4]. We were served the most tantalizing sake in a small sake cup with gold chrysanthemums by one of about 100 waiters that again danced around the banquet room. Their Highnesses the Emperor and Empress and others of the Imperial Family joined us at the head of all tables. His Highness the Emperor addressed the guests after which Prime Minister Abe said a few words. Gagaku musicians then played the National Anthem.
I truly thank the Japanese American community in Hawaii for this opportunity to visit with their Highnesses and to share the moment with other Nikkei representatives from around the world. We were also able to visit JICA in Yokohama and study the history behind the emigration of the Japanese to the America’s. There is so much depth and meaning to their stories and I was proud to be representing the Japanese Americans of Hawaii in Japan with the others.
The BANZAI congratulating the Emperor with 2,000 + others in the room….the Gagaku musicians playing the Japanese National Anthem (I think it was meant to be played on traditional instruments)….the beauty of Kyogen, Kabuki and Bunraku all wrapped into one SANBASO….and their Highnesses dignified stature and Empress Masako’s soft smile are experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life!