A Busy January for Japan’s Emperor and Imperial FamilyImperial Family Culture History Society
Every January 1, Emperor Naruhito begins to perform rituals in the early morning, before the day has dawned. His schedule is packed with such observances at the start of the year.
The Imperial Household Agency website states that this year, Emperor Naruhito began with the Shihōhai, a ceremony in which he turns to venerate Japan’s shrines in all directions, including Mie Prefecture’s Ise Shrine and the mausoleums of former emperors. This was followed by the Saitansai, celebrating the new year.
After these rituals, performed alone, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako participated in celebratory observances until the evening. Following greetings in the morning from the grand steward and other senior figures in the IHA, he met with his brother Crown Prince Fumihito and other adult members of the imperial family, and later Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and other representatives of the different branches of government, as well as cabinet ministers. From the afternoon, he received visits from various foreign ambassadors stationed in Japan.
Each January 2, the imperial couple and other family members usually stand on an Imperial Palace balcony and greet members of the public gathered in the East Gardens. However, the event was canceled in 2024 after the earthquake in the Noto Peninsula on January 1.
In the Genshisai on January 3, Emperor Naruhito prayed for the prosperity of Japan and its people. On January 4, there was the Sōji Hajime, in which the grand master of the division of rituals reported to Emperor Naruhito about the ceremonies to take place at Ise Shrine and the Imperial Palace.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attended the Kōsho Hajime (New Year Lectures) on January 11. In 2024, Kinsui Satoshi, professor emeritus at Osaka University, talked about the use of stereotypical language; Inoue Masahito, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, spoke on developments and issues related to criminal investigation methods; and Nishikawa Keiko, professor emeritus at Chiba University, discussed fluctuation’s role in the structure of matter. This ceremony has its roots in one established by Emperor Meiji in 1869; from 1953 onward, there has been one lecture each in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.
On January 19, the Utakai Hajime took place; this New Year’s Poetry Reading maintains a tradition that goes back for centuries. Waka poems on the topic of “harmony” (wa) by Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, and members of the public were first read aloud and then chanted.
(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako attend the Utakai Hajime, or New Year’s Poetry Reading, in the Matsu-no-ma room at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, on January 19, 2024. © Jiji.)