TOKYO -- Emperor Akihito, son of former Emperor Hirohito, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne yesterday, the living symbol of a Japan that is still struggling to define what it means to be the world's second-largest economic power.
With three shouts of "Banzai!" -- 10,000 years, a wish of longevity borrowed centuries ago from China -- the 56-year-old emperor took over the throne he inherited when his father died last year after the longest reign of any 20th-century monarch.
The new head of the world's longest continuous royal house started the day of his enthronement with morning visits to three Shinto shrines on the palace grounds, announcing the day's rituals to his ancestors and gods.
What followed was the culminating day of the most elaborate, best-attended, highest-priced imperial transition the world has yet seen.
Before the day of ceremonies began, the high-powered gathering of dignitaries attracted by the event already was immersed in diplomacy.
Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Third World heads of state and government began on Sunday to press their cases for more aid from Japan, and Vice President Dan Quayle prepared to deliver to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu a letter from President George Bush.
The vice president was expected to ask Japan to back Washington's increased troop commitments in the Persian Gulf by increasing the money it will commit above its present $2 billion for the multinational force and another $2 billion for countries hurt by honoring the U.N. embargo.
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Pereze de Cuellar traveled to Tokyo aboard Air Force Two with Mr. Quayle, and they spent two hours in an airborne discussion of prospects for a Security Council resolution approving military force to remove Iraqi troops from occupied Kuwait.
Akihito's ascent to the 6-meter-high enthronement platform began at 1 p.m. today Tokyo time (11 p.m. EST yesterday). The event was witnessed by heads of state or their representatives from 157 countries, the United Nations and the European Community.
Dressed in traditional court robes, the emperor read a few paragraphs announcing that he had risen to his father's throne.
Scripted down to the last flower petal by conservative bureaucrats of the Imperial Household Agency, the official overseers of the emperor's lifestyle and rituals, the ceremony was designed both to take advantage of modern technology, which made possible the presence of an unprecedented number of high-ranking foreign dignitaries, and to preserve as much of the royal mystique as possible in the age of hot TV lights and still-camera strobe flashes.
The attention to minute detail has included a $3.2 million project in which the two royal thrones -- one for Emperor Akihito and one for his wife, Empress Michiko -- were disassembled, flown here from the ancient capital, Kyoto, and reassembled complete with their gilded, bird-decorated octagonal canopies on the palace grounds in central Tokyo.
This week's ceremonies and a Shinto religious ritual that will complete the round of activities Thursday will cost Japanese taxpayers an estimated $96 million, making it the most costly royal accession the world has ever seen.
More than one-third of the cost is for security, including tens of thousands of policemen deployed throughout Tokyo for the past month and 37,000 on duty in the capital today.
With the $76 million already spent on former Emperor Hirohito's funeral and its security arrangements, the expenditure brings the estimated cost of the succession to $172 million.
Emperor Akihito's is the first accession since the U.S. occupation forces rewrote Japan's Constitution after World War II, making the country pacifist and redefining the emperor, previously considered a living god, as a mere mortal symbol of nationhood.
It comes as the Diet, Japan's parliament, has thwarted Mr. Kaifu's attempt to send 2,000 lightly armed soldiers to join the Persian Gulf operation, touching off a broad national debate about the role Japan should play in the post-Cold War world.
Some Japanese have used the freedom granted by the new constitution to organize protests against the enthronement itself.
Protests have come from intellectuals, including a group of college presidents, from Christian and other non-Shinto religious groups and from 50,000 labor union members who rallied in a Tokyo park yesterday to protest the use of government money in a Shinto religious ceremony.
Radical leftists have vowed to use violence to disrupt the ceremonies and are implicated in a bomb that killed a policeman Nov. 1, other bombs and a series of fires at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples associated with the imperial household.
Police also tentatively blamed leftist organizations for a pair of explosions that broke a window yesterday evening at the home of the U.S. consul in Kobe, and for six fires at shrines and temples last night and this morning.