This spring, Japan welcomes a new emperor when Crown Prince Naruhito (b. 1960) succeeds the Heisei Emperor, Akihito (b. 1933), as the 126th sovereign in the traditional lineage—the oldest royal line in the world, and one of the oldest family trees of any kind. When he takes possession of the Imperial Regalia, Naruhito will be the fifth sovereign to rule as a constitutional monarch in the modern age.
“Royal Celebrations: Japanese Prints and Postcards” presents prints, postcards, and illustrated books from the MFA collection that depict important events in the Japanese imperial family from 1868 to the present, including enthronement ceremonies—the equivalent of coronations—as well as royal weddings, anniversaries, births, and state visits. In The Gosechi Dance (1915), pictured above, young women of noble birth don radiant costumes to celebrate the enthronement of Naruhito’s great-grandfather.
At the beginning of the 20th century, most of the great powers were monarchies, but the only remaining monarchies in the Group of Seven are Britain and Japan. Is the maintenance of a royal family a frivolous expense? Or does a symbolic ruler have an important function as a focus of national unity, maintaining stability as elected governments change?
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website