Thu, May 02, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Japan sees in new era with rites, sake

HISTORIC DAY:People scrambled to collect stamps and newspapers bearing the first day of the Reiwa era, with some getting married on the stroke of midnight

AFP, TOKYO

An archer on horseback dressed as an ancient samurai warrior shoots an arrow at a target during an event to celebrate Japan’s new imperial Reiwa era at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo yesterday.

Photo: AFP

With refreshing slurps of sake, a spot of medieval horseback samurai archery and solemn Shinto rites, Japanese yesterday rang in a new imperial era as Crown Prince Naruhito became their 126th emperor.

Unseasonable rain had somewhat dampened the party atmosphere for Tuesday’s historic abdication of Naruhito’s father emperor Akihito, with only a handful of hardy souls cowering under umbrellas to pay their respects at Tokyo’s sprawling Imperial Palace.

Yet the skies cleared yesterday for the first day of the Reiwa era — meaning “beautiful harmony” — and Japanese, enjoying an unprecedented 10-day holiday, packed into Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo to celebrate.

As crowds lined the path, about 30 Shinto priests wearing traditional white robes and tall black hats marched under a huge gate toward the main building to conduct a festive ceremony to “report” the new emperor’s accession to his ancestors, the Shinto gods.

Thirsty revelers also rushed to scoop up masu or plain wooden blocks filled with sake, with 1,000 free cups gone in just 30 minutes.

Shrine maidens wearing white robes and bright orange hakama, or wide-legged trousers, dished up the rice wine from a wooden barrel using a long ladle.

“The sake is delicious,” said Midori Okuzumi, 49, who traveled from eastern Tokyo with her husband, Hirokazu, for the celebrations.

“It’s a slight shame that the masu [wooden cups] ran out before our turn came, but it’s still tasty,” she said, clutching a small paper cup instead.

Office worker Kiyohiko Izawa, 28, and his wife Naoko, also 28, who works at a bank, visited the shrine to report their marriage to the Shinto gods.

“I’m happy that we were able to report our marriage on the first day of Reiwa,” Naoko said.

Later, archers on horseback dressed as ancient samurai warriors performed for an enthusiastic crowd, hitting their targets as they galloped over the lush shrine lawns.

“I’m very moved to watch this traditional event,” said Yasutaka Okamoto, 67, an office worker from western Tokyo.

The change of era is a huge event in Japan and several couples chose to get married on the stroke of midnight.

There were also long lines at post offices to get stamps bearing the first day of the Reiwa era and crowds scrambled to get rare special editions of newspapers commemorating the events outside mainline stations.

Some people went to extraordinary lengths to ring in the new era.

With early-morning clouds casting a shadow over the first sunrise, about 80 people paid for a specially chartered plane to soar above them to capture dawn breaking over the Japanese Alps.

“Although passengers could not see Mount Fuji due to bad weather, they were able to enjoy the first sunrise of Reiwa,” said Sho Inoue, an airline company spokesman.

About 370 people traveled to Nemuro on the island of Hokkaido, one of the easternmost points of Japan, in a bid to be the first to see the sunrise, but clouds cast a shadow on proceedings there.

Others went to watch the formal ceremony and Naruhito’s first speech on massive screens outside Shinjuku, the world’s busiest train station.

Gazing up at the screen, law student Mito Okuno, 21, said she had come from Himeji, about 600km to the west of Tokyo, to savor the historic moment.

Dressed in a striped orange, red and black kimono, Okuno said: “I am someone who loves history and what we are experiencing now will be talked about for a long time.”

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