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The Enthronement of the Tennō

Today is a national holiday in Japan, to celebrate the enthronement of the Tennō.

The enthronement ceremony itself happened at 1 pm, with heads of state from around the world in attendance.

And it had nothing to do with Shinto. The enthronement ceremony has, in fact, never had anything to do with Shinto. It was originally copied from Chinese models, and until the late nineteenth century, everyone wore traditional Chinese official robes for it. (By the late nineteenth century, those robes may have been a thousand years out of date in China itself.) While the robes were changed to Japanese style for the enthronement of Meiji Tennō, the Chinese style of the Takamikura, the Tennō’s throne, is still obvious.

Many scholars believe that this was deliberate. The Daijōsai was the ancient, secret, Shinto ritual associated with the accession, while the enthronement (Sokui no rei, in Japanese) was a modern, public, Chinese ceremony. The Daijōsai may have been associated with spiritual authority, and the enthronement with political authority.

That is not to say that there were no Shinto rituals today. From 9 am, the Tennō visited the three sacred halls in the Imperial Palace to announce the enthronement ceremony. The first, the Kashikodokoro, enshrines Amaterasu Ōmikami, while the second, the Kōreiden, enshrines the imperial ancestors, and the third, the Shinden, enshrines all the other kami of Japan. For these ceremonies, the Tennō wore pure white vestments — something that is limited to the most important rituals, and possibly to this one and the Daijōsai. (I haven’t come across any others to be sure about, but there may be some.) Further, the sword was carried before the Tennō and the jewels behind him as he processed to the Kashikodokoro, again something that marks the ritual as out of the ordinary.

The procession to the Kashikodokoro was broadcast live on television, but the ritual itself takes place inside the Kashikodokoro, with no cameras, so NHK showed the Tennō processing to the entrance about five times to fill up the ten minutes that the ceremony took. The ceremonies at the other two halls are almost exactly the same, so I didn’t watch them as well.

Because the announcement at the Kashikodokoro is obviously a Shinto ritual, it cannot be a state event. Instead, it is a private ritual of the Imperial household, that just happens to be attended by the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and representatives of the Diet and Supreme Court. But it isn’t a state event.

This distinction is also a bit blurry for the Daijōsai, the most important of the accession rituals, which will be held next month. This month’s essay on my Patreon is about the Daijōsai, and if you sign up before the end of this month, not only will you get that essay, you will also get the benefit of the special offer!

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