Bringing Modern Flair to An Ancient and Exotic Ritual, Emperor Akihito Claims Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne

updated 11/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/26/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Malcolm Forbes would have loved it. The guest list numbered 3,400. The attending luminaries, gathered from 158 countries, anticipated hushed pageantry and high drama—and, oh, yes, seven sumptuous formal banquets in four days. Between meals they were ferried around by some 550 limousines commandeered for the occasion. In short, nothing less than Japan's reputation for both imperial ritual and modern efficiency was at stake last week as an elegantly robed Emperor Akihito declared himself the country's 125th ruler in a 2,600-year line of emperors. For a brief time, the chrysanthemum curtains parted just enough for the Emperor's subjects to glimpse a rite that had not been performed since Akihito's late father, the god-king Hirohito, ascended the throne in 1928. (Akihito assumed the throne after his father died last year but had to observe a traditional mourning period before being formally installed.)

The Japanese, of course, also took advantage of the national holiday to get an eyeful of an array of foreign dignitaries, including Vice President and Mrs. Quayle and Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Cuba's Fidel Castro sent his regrets, but Prince Albert of Monaco, Philippine President Corazon Aquino and King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden joined thousands of Japanese well-wishers on the forested grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

For the 30-minute enthronement, the Emperor, 56, wore a $58,000 rust-colored silk kimono and stood on a gilded platform throne of lacquer and gold. His wife, Empress Michiko, 56, dressed in an ornately embroidered $108,000 multilayered kimono, occupied a smaller throne nearby. In contrast, the guests opted for Western-style evening wear. Diana chose a kicky veiled headband for the daytime event but switched to a tiara and a white beaded gown for that evening's banquet.

While the sake flowed inside, small bands of leftists outside tried their best to disrupt the merriment, angered by the cost of the festivities—reportedly $100 million. Still, most Japanese thought the expense well worth it. "It's good to have this kind of ceremony because the Emperor unifies the Japanese people," said Mitsuko Nemoto, 52, a Tokyo housewife. "I enjoy the atmosphere."

Also enjoying themselves, or so it seemed, were Diana and Charles, on their second public outing together since their holiday in Majorca last August. Not only was Diana able to coax a smile out of her husband, who has been glum since he broke his arm playing polo in July, but she charmed Crown Prince Naruhito, 30, the Emperor's bachelor eldest son, at a palace tea party. (Naruhito is said to be an admirer of Brooke Shields, who visited him recently when in Japan on a modeling assignment.) Diana also made a fan of Vice President Quayle, who dropped in on the Waleses at the British Embassy.

In fact it was Quayle, 43, who seemed to be having the most fun. While Charles went to an art museum and Diana visited a children's hospital, Dunkin' Dan played a one-on-one game of basketball against a Japanese junior high school student.

Such antics probably intrigued Emperor Akihito, who has tried his best to be a modern and accessible monarch. "I find it natural that the imperial family should not exist at a distance from the people," he declared before his coronation. As a matter of personal style, however, it seemed unlikely that he would ever risk the humiliation of an imperial double dribble.

—Mary H.J. Farrell, Janice Fuhrman in Tokyo

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