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The Dawn of Showa

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Today’s post is by Zoran Sinobad, Reference Librarian in the Moving Image Research Center.  

Shortly after 7 a.m. on November 6, 1928, two mounted policemen in green breeches and black tunics appeared on the stone bridge at the main entrance to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan.  They were followed by two officers of the Imperial Guard in full dress and a squadron of cavalry lancers attired in black and red.  After them came three carriages adorned with the imperial chrysanthemum crest.

Thus began the final chapter in the ascension to the throne of the 124th Emperor of Japan.  Although the 25-year-old Hirohito assumed the throne immediately upon the death of his father, Emperor Taisho, on December 25, 1926, the official enthronement took place almost two years later, following one year of mourning and another required for planting and harvesting the sacred rice to be used in the ceremony. The enthronement was traditionally held in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan.

The proceedings were broadcast live on radio throughout Japan and reels of film footage of the event were dispatched to various parts of the country as quickly as possible. All major foreign newsreel companies had cameramen on the scene, and the New York-based Tiffany-Stahl Productions even announced a short film with synchronized sound to be “taken in natural colors in Tokio [sic], Japan, during the coronation of the Emperor” (Motion Picture News, August 25, 1928, p. 609). On the Japanese side, the Ministry of the Imperial Household (Kunaisho), the Ministry of Education (Monbusho), and the specially formed Enthronement Filming Group (Gotairei Kinshadan), all participated in the production and distribution of motion pictures of the ceremony.

The Library of Congress holds eight reels of footage of the 1928 enthronement as part of its large collection of Japanese features, documentaries and newsreels from the war and the pre-war era (late 1920s through 1945), captured by U.S. occupation forces in the aftermath of World War II. As preparations begin in earnest for the enthronement of Japan’s next emperor in 2019, let us go back in time and take a closer look at the imperial transition of the world’s oldest continuous hereditary monarchy.

[CLIP 1] November 6, 1928.  The Emperor steps into his carriage and leaves the Imperial Palace.  As the procession moves slowly to Tokyo Station, note the large palanquin-like crate mounted on long poles.  Traditionally carried by the young men of the village of Yase, it contains the Kashikodokoro, a shrine with the three sacred treasures of the Empire, the Mirror, the Sword, and the Jewels.

From Tokyo, a special train carries the Emperor and his entourage to Nagoya for an overnight stay.

[CLIP2] November 7.  The procession leaves Nagoya Castle on its way to the station.  Unlike the day before, when he was attired in a full dress uniform of a Grand Marshall, the Emperor now wears a sokutai, the traditional ceremonial court garment.

[CLIP 3] The imperial train from Nagoya reaches Kyoto in the early afternoon.  Not long after, the Emperor arrives at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where the enthronement ritual itself is to take place.

[CLIP 4] November 10. The day of the enthronement.  Shinto priests, court officials, high ranking military officers and foreign guests arrive at the Hall of State Ceremonies (Shishinden), where the Sokuirei, the formal ceremony of ascending the throne, is scheduled to commence at 2 p.m.

Front page of The Japan Times & Mail, November 11, 1928.


[CLIP 5] November 23.  The Emperor and Empress pay their respects at the tomb of Jinmu, the legendary first Emperor of Japan, in Kashihara, Nara.  Before returning to Tokyo, the couple also visits the Ise Shrine, one of Shinto’s holiest and most important sites, and the tombs of Emperors Komei, Ninko, and Meiji.

[CLIP 6] November 27.  Back in Tokyo, carriages with the Emperor and Empress proceed from the train station to the Imperial Palace.

All clips from The Enthronement Ceremony – November 28 (Sokui no tairei-Showa sannen juichigatsu) produced by the Ministry of the Imperial Household.

This and other films in the Japanese Collection can be viewed by appointment.  Please consult the Moving Image Research Center for complete viewing guidelines.”

Thank you to Eiichi Ito and Cameron Penwell of the Library’s Asian Division for their assistance.


  1. It is a treat to be able to see this little bit of history.

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