Tokyo: With refreshing slurps of sake and solemn Shinto rites, Japanese rang in a new imperial era in festive mood Wednesday as Naruhito became their 126th emperor.
Unseasonable rain had somewhat dampened the party atmosphere for Tuesday's historic abdication of Naruhito's father Akihito, with only a handful of hardy souls cowering under umbrellas to pay their respects at Tokyo's sprawling Imperial Palace.
But the skies cleared Wednesday for the first day of the "Reiwa" era, meaning "beautiful harmony" and the Japanese, enjoying an unprecedented 10-day holiday, packed into Meiji Jingu shrine in central Tokyo to celebrate.
As crowds lined the path, some 30 Shinto priests wearing traditional white robes and tall black hats marched under a huge gate towards the main building to conduct a festive ceremony to "report" the new emperor's accession to his ancestors, the Shinto gods.
And thirsty revellers rushed to scoop up "masu" or plain wooden blocks filled with sake, with 1,000 free cups gone in just 30 minutes. Shrine maidens wearing white robes and bright orange, "hakama" or wide-legged trousers dished up the rice wine that is synonymous with Japan from a wooden barrel using a long ladle.
"The sake is delicious," said Midori Okuzumi, 49, who travelled from eastern Tokyo with her husband Hirokazu for the celebrations. "It's a slight shame that the masu (wooden cups) ran out before our turn came but it's still tasty," she said, clutching a small paper cup instead.
Office worker Kiyohiko Izawa, 28 and his wife Naoko, also 28, who works at a bank, visited the shrine to report their marriage to the Shinto gods. "I'm happy that we were able to report our marriage on the first day of Reiwa," said Naoko.
The change of era is a huge event in Japan, on a par with the accession of a new emperor. Several couples chose to get married on the stroke of midnight and there were long queues at post offices to get stamps bearing the first day of the Reiwa era. And some people went to extraordinary lengths to ring in the new era....