Sparse Crowds As Akihito Enthroned

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FOR the first time, an emperor of Japan ascended to the throne by declaring himself to be a ``symbol of the state'' rather than a sovereign or a descendant of deities. But despite this historic change made on the world's oldest monarchy, the enthronement of Emperor Akihito was conducted yesterday with many rituals of Japan's native Shinto religion, which before World War II included worship of the emperor.

The ceremony, for instance, included the use of mystical jewels, mirror, and sword. And just before his self-proclamation during a solemn public ritual, Akihito made a private report to his imperial ancestors, who by legend include Shinto deities.

Wearing a traditional costume, he paid tribute to his father, Hirohito, who died in January 1989, as a man who ``shared joys and sorrows with the people at all times.'' Akihito pledged to follow in his father's footsteps as well as to fulfill his duties under the postwar Constitution ``as symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.''

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The prime minister did not step down from the throne to offer congratulations, as happened during Hirohito's 1928 enthronement. But Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu did lead the Japanese guests in a cheer - banzai - widely used during prewar days when the emperor was portrayed as a ``living god.''

Anti-emperor leftists did not disrupt the ceremony, although police reported at least 35 cases of attacks against trains, Shinto shrines, and military camps. With 37,000 police protecting him, Akihito rode in an open-top Rolls-Royce through Tokyo while sparse crowds waved the flag at him.

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