On Monday, the Emperor and Empress of Japan participated in an important annual memorial ceremony in Tokyo, remembering those who died in World War II.
The memorial service commemorates the end of World War II in Japan. It’s held each year on August 15, which is the anniversary of Emperor Hirohito’s famous broadcast announcing that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender set out in the Potsdam Declaration. That broadcast was the first time that a Japanese emperor had ever spoken directly to the people, and therefore the first time that most people in Japan had ever heard an emperor’s voice. The broadcast was a recording made on a phonograph and then aired on NHK.
Every August, the Emperor and Empress join dignitaries from across Japan for the memorial ceremony, which honors the lives lost during the war. The ceremony has been held on various dates and in different locations since 1952. In 1965, it was moved permanently to the Nippon Budokan, an arena in Tokyo that hosts martial arts competitions and musical performances. A law establishing August 15 as the official date of the ceremony was adopted in 1982.
The Emperor and Empress attend the ceremony each year. Here, Emperor Naruhito delivers a speech during the ceremony, with Empress Masako standing at his side.
Empress Masako has developed a sort of clothing and jewelry uniform for this service. This is very in line with the way that the Japanese imperial court handles attire: strict rules about clothing for certain occasions, as well as traditional styles repeated often for annual events. Since the beginning of her husband’s reign, Masako has worn gray for the memorial ceremony, accessorized with a single strand of pearls and button-style pearl earrings. Both the color of her clothing and the style of her jewelry fit with traditional mourning attire standards.
The previous empress consort, Empress Michiko, also wore similar clothing and jewels for the memorial ceremony during her husband’s reign, though there was a little more variation in her attire at times. Here, at the ceremony in August 2003, she wears an elegant gray suit and hat with pearls, including a modern pearl brooch.
Here, in August 2009, she again wears a gray suit for the memorial ceremony, but accessorized with slightly different jewelry. Her pearl earrings have a slightly more complicated setting, and her brooch features both black and white pearls in its design.
Empress Michiko also sometimes wore more traditional Japanese clothing for the ceremony. Here, she wears a gray kimono for the service in August 2014.
Empress Masako, though, has chosen to wear identical clothes and jewels for each of the four memorial ceremonies held during her husband’s reign so far. This is her attire from the August 2019 ceremony.
Masako is pictured here during the ceremony in August 2020, a scaled-back version held at the start of the pandemic.
The imperial couple are pictured here at the ceremony in August 2021. You’ll note that Masako has again worn the same gray suit and hat and pearls.
And here’s another look at her clothing and jewelry from this week’s ceremony. Choosing to repeat an ensemble for an event like this is an easy way to ensure continuity, something that the Japanese monarchy certainly prizes, and it’s also a great way to keep the event’s focus on the matter at hand.