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Editorial: Imperial succession ceremonies should conform to Constitution, common sense

A series of ceremonies for the impeding Imperial succession are shifting into high gear. Even as the traditions of the Imperial Family are to be respected, these ceremonies must not deviate from the constitutional separation of religion and state, and indeed from common sense.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have visited Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture in central Japan to perform a ceremony to report his abdication to the sun goddess Amaterasu-omikami. In the ceremony, the Emperor was accompanied by chamberlains carrying the sacred sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi and the sacred jewel Yasakani no Magatama, which are among the Three Sacred Treasures also known as the Imperial Regalia of Japan.

Among the 11 ceremonies related to the Emperor's abdication, only "Taiirei-Seiden-no-gi" will be an act in matters of state for which the government will be responsible under the Constitution, while the others are private Imperial Family events. The government had once considered spending taxpayers' money to finance these events, but all costs are covered by the Imperial Family's private funds because the ceremonies are of a highly religious nature.

In a ceremony called "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi," or the Ceremony for Inheriting the Imperial Regalia and Seals on May 1, as proof of accession to the throne Crown Prince Naruhito will inherit traditional properties handed down with the throne, such as the Imperial Regalia and the State and Privy seals for use in matters of state. The government has maintained the ceremony does not have religious meaning and does not run counter to constitutional separation of religion and state, noting that the Imperial House Economy Law defines the Imperial Regalia as venerable articles handed down with the throne.

Based on the same logic, five enthronement-related events, including "Sokuirei-Seiden-no-gi," or the Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden (State Hall), and Kyoen-no-gi, or Court Banquets after the Ceremony of the Enthronement, have been designated as acts in matters of state under the Constitution. However, this is difficult to understand.

Moreover, female Imperial Family members are barred from the Kenji-to-Shokei-no-gi ceremony, following precedent based on legislation enacted at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912) and abolished after World War II. However, many members of the public apparently feel at odds with this exclusion in light of current social norms.

What is more obscure is the definition of the "Daijosai" Imperial grand thanksgiving rite. The Daijosai, in which the new emperor offers new rice to the gods for the first time with a prayer for an abundant harvest, is highly religious in nature. The government regards the rite not as an act in matters of state but an Imperial Household event. Nevertheless, the government will spend a massive amount of state funds on the event due to the public nature of Imperial successions ceremonies

After Emperor Taisho acceded to the Imperial Throne in 1912, the government held the largest-ever Daijosai rite in an attempt to use the Emperor's religious authority to strengthen state control over the country. When Emperor Akihito ascended to the throne, the prewar Daijosai style was followed, and it will be again for his son, all without in-depth discussion.

In an unprecedented move last year, Prince Akishino, younger brother of the Crown Prince, questioned funding for the Shinto-linked ritual, saying, "I wonder whether it is appropriate to cover the highly religious event with state monies."

It is important to not only celebrate the Imperial succession, but also to hold debate on how Imperial Family events should be held in light of social principles and modern ideas.

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