Spokesmen say this week’s ceremony, and another scheduled for October, violate the principal of separation of church and state.

On Tuesday afternoon, the abdication ceremony for Emperor Akihito was held at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. At roughly the same time, though, a different gathering was taking place in the capital’s Shinjuku district, where a number of Japanese Christian organizations, including the Japan Baptist Convention, National Christian Council in Japan, and The Society of Jesus, held a joint press conference to voice their complaint about the ascension ceremony for Akihito’s son, Naruhito, which was scheduled to take place the next day.

At the heart of the Christian groups’ grievance is the fact that while the imperial changeover is an event of great cultural significance in Japan, there’s a religious aspect to it as well. Traditional Shinto belief holds that Japan’s emperors are the descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu, the religion’s most important deity, and that by extension the emperor himself is a god in human form. In addition, Japan’s imperial regalia, called the Three Sacred Treasures and consisting of a sword, curved bead, and mirror, also have millennia-old connections to Shinto belief, and both the sword and bead are presented to the new emperor during the ascension ceremony.

▼ The sword and bead are presented, within wrappings, to Emperor Akihito during his ascension ceremony in 1989.

This prompted the assembled Christian groups to issue a joint statement declaring the ascension ceremony, an official state function which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe both attended and delivered a speech during, “a violation of the fundamental principles of democratic sovereignty, as well as the separation of government and religion, as specified in the constitution of Japan.” The organizations hold the same opinion about Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony, the second ceremony in the succession process, which is scheduled to take place in October, saying that the official state status of the ceremonies shows “a resurgence of State Shinto,” a term used to describe the strong reciprocal influences of Shinto doctrines, including the absolute divinity of the emperor, and government policies on each other during Japan’s bellicose political climate during the first half of the 20th century.

However, while Shinto fundamentalists do exist in Japan, it would be an exaggeration to say that the majority of the Japanese people revere the emperor as a god. Naruhito’s grandfather himself, Hirohito, famously made a public statement rejecting the idea that he was a living god following Japan’s surrender in World War II, and in the current era, the emperor is seen more as a symbol of Japan’s traditional values and culture, not as a religious leader.

Since the Emperor of Japan commands no official political power, it’s unlikely that the Japanese Christian groups’ claim that the ascension and enthronement ceremonies constitute a violation of the constitution will lead to any changes in the planned October event, just as Naruhito’s ascension ceremony went on as planned on May 1.

Source: Livedoor News/Asahi Shimbun Digital via Hachima Kiko
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