Carriage Processions to Resume for New Ambassadors Visiting Emperor

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A horse-drawn carriage procession is seen on its way from the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station in a practice run on Friday morning.

Horse-drawn carriage processions for new foreign ambassadors to Japan will most likely restart in March after being suspended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to sources. The carriage treatment is provided when new ambassadors visit the Emperor at the Imperial Palace in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

A practice run for the carriage was conducted on Friday morning, led by the Imperial Household Agency and going from the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Station and then back. If the tradition returns, it will be about three years from the last time a process was held, and indicate the Imperial household’s move toward living with COVID-19.

Such carriage processions convey a new ambassador to a ceremony at which they hand over a letter of credence received from their head of state to the Emperor. The system was established in 1952. Ambassadors have the option to go to the palace by car, but most have so far taken the carriage. The last procession took place in March 2020 before the custom was suspended during the pandemic to avoid drawing crowds of onlookers.

On Friday, the carriage procession left the palace before 10 a.m., reached Tokyo station and then turned back to complete a 3-kilometer course. Tourists and passersby were seen taking photos with their phones of the regal, leisurely moving train as the horses clip-clopped by Tokyo Station.

The agency is planning to resume processions beginning with those for diplomatic credential ceremonies in March if the virus situation remains under control.