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Editorial: Imperial succession ceremonies should match our modern era

How will the ceremonies marking the abdication of Emperor Akihito and subsequent accession of Crown Prince Naruhito to the throne be conducted? The government office overseeing all preparations for these events has been launched, while a committee tasked with deciding the details of the ceremonies will be established in the autumn.

We call on these bodies to carry out their discussions with consistency with the Constitution in mind, while also keeping the events simple in accordance with the tenor of the present era.

The government decided in April this year to carry out ceremonies for not just the abdication -- the first in Japan's constitutional era -- but also the accession as constitutional functions of the emperor. Meanwhile, it was also decided that when the new Emperor carries out the Daijosai, a ceremony in which new rice is offered to imperial ancestors and to the deities of heaven and earth, it will not be designated as a constitutional function due to its religious nature. As was the case after Emperor Akihito's enthronement, the Daijosai will be performed as an Imperial Household function.

The cost of the Daijosai is born by the Imperial Household, but as this is funded by the government, ultimately the ceremony will be covered by the public purse. There remain deep-rooted questions about this from the viewpoint of the separation of religion and state mandated by the Constitution.

From this perspective, there also remain problems with ceremonies categorized as constitutional functions of the emperor. The "Sokuirei seiden no gi," a ceremony to announce the accession, features the prime minister responding to the words of the newly enthroned emperor. The ceremony puts one in mind of a monarch speaking to a retainer, and many experts have criticized it as inconsistent with the principle of the sovereignty of the people enshrined in the Constitution. Deeper debate on this issue is needed, as well as a proper explanation to the people of Japan.

Public expenditures related to the enthronement of Emperor Akihito hit some 12.3 billion yen, and the cost drew plenty of criticism. The Daijokyu, a palace built just for the Daijosai, was demolished after the ceremony, and many of the materials for the structure were disposed of as well. For the coming ceremony, we call on organizers to economize as much as possible, including reusing materials.

It is also important to consider how to simplify to the greatest extent possible the "Kyoen no gi," a ceremony to celebrate the accession of the new emperor. For Emperor Akihito's enthronement, some 3,000 people were invited to the event, which spanned four days and included seven banquets. Considering the troubled state of government finances, as well as reducing the burden on the new emperor and empress, simplifying this ceremony is the obvious course.

When the government consulted experts on ceremonies related to the Imperial succession, some suggested the events be "conducted in harmony with ideas common both inside and outside Japan." The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, pays excessive heed to its more conservative elements, and its stance of simply pressing ahead with discussions will not suffice.

Unlike the previous succession upon the death of Emperor Showa, this time the government has the time to consider all the angles of this issue. Nevertheless, the Abe administration is sticking to past precedent as the baseline for its planning. One glaring example of this is the plan to exclude female members of the Imperial Family from important ceremonies.

It has been pointed out that coordination between the prime minister's office and the Imperial Household Agency on points such as the schedule for the succession remains insufficient. For the sake of all the ceremonies proceeding smoothly, both sides should step up their efforts to cooperate.

The Imperial system has adapted to meet the needs of the era. There should be no hesitancy to make sure the Imperial abdication and accession ceremonies are conducted in the same spirit.

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