Coronation doesn't impress all Japanese

November 13, 1990|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Japanese turned out by the tens of thousands yesterday afternoon, lining sidewalks to wave flags and scream as their emperor and empress rode home in an open Rolls-Royce after formally ascending to the 1,600-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne.

In a day filled with precise and imprecise, official and unofficial numbers, the precise, official number of people reported along the 4-kilometer motorcade route was 116,879. Some had come from distant provinces to see the procession.

At least several times that many used the accession day holiday to flee the capital for a long weekend in the country or to take a last look at autumn's fading colors.

In the city, hundreds of thousands ignored the $92 million extravaganza in favor of pachinko pinball parlors and videotape rental shops, some of which had been taking advance orders for more than two months.

To a large extent, the enthronement was a made-for-television performance.

"My wife wanted to watch the rituals on television," Tsuneo Shigemura, an accountant, told a foreigner who interrupted his concentration at the Arabian Nights pachinko parlor in Tokyo's Aomori section. "So that gave me a chance to use the day off to relax here."

Thousands of others joined organized protests, including an evening march through Tokyo, the first time it has been legal to object publicly to the enthronement of a Japanese emperor.

Some protested violently. One of the day's numbers was an official count of 34 attempted terrorist attacks, mostly with homemade bombs, as leftists tried with little effect to disrupt events that were guarded by 37,000 policemen.

Dressed in black, European-style formal wear and draped with the banners and decorations of empire, Emperor Akihito, 56, sat in the open convertible with Empress Michiko, smiling, nodding and waving to their citizens, obviously relishing a chance to relive a similar parade 32 years ago in which far bigger and more ecstatic crowds had watched them ride home in a horse-drawn carriage after Japan's wedding of the century.

The emperor, who began setting precedents as a student when he became the first Japanese heir-apparent to learn a foreign language -- English -- and set another with his choice of mate, a rich girl who became the first commoner to marry a future emperor, went on changing the imperial ways with his accession to the throne.

Four hours before the motorcade, they had worn ancient royal gowns as each stood under a gilded and lacquered octagonal canopy while the new emperor read a pledge to honor Japan's U.S.-made constitution -- another precedent that made him not only the first to come to the throne in public view but the first to come to the throne with no claim to being a living deity.

He preserved tradition by wearing a reddish-brown gown, a garment reserved only for the emperor, in a color chosen to represent the rising sun that long has been Japan's national symbol.

Witnesses to the ritual included Belgium's King Baudouin, Prince Charles and Princess Diana of England, Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn, and other royalty and senior officials from 158 countries, the United Nations and the European Community.

In 1928, when Emperor Akihito's father, Hirohito, came to the throne, he was not only the chief priest and living god of the Shinto religious sect but, at least symbolically, the country's final arbiter of right and wrong and the nation's general of generals, mounted on a white horse.

Between the two accessions came not only World War II and the constitutional changes of the U.S. occupation that followed but also the invention of television, which meant the Japanese people not only were legally permitted to see an emperor enthroned for the first time yesterday but might have trouble avoiding a look at the event, which was given saturation coverage all day.

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