Coalition calls government involvement “a threat to freedom of faith.”

On October 22, dignitaries both from across Japan and abroad gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo for the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito. However, just a day earlier a different assembly in the capital was in a far less celebratory mood.

The National Christian Council Japan, as well as a number of Japanese Protestant and Catholic organizations, held a joint press conference on Monday to speak out against the enthronement ceremony and numerous other events related to Naruhito taking over as monarch flowing the abdication of his father, Akihito. Tradition holds that Japan’s emperors are descendants of Amaterasu, the sun goddess and most revered of Shinto’s many divine entities, and several of the ceremonies by which the monarchy is transferred from one Japanese emperor to another are steeped in Shinto tradition, involving the participation of Shinto priests and the use of sacred Shinto artifacts (such as the Sword of Heavenly Gathering Clouds).

The Christian groups’ complaint is directed less at the ceremonies themselves, however, than at the fact that the Japanese government is paying for them. The use of public funds, the groups contest, represents “an unconstitutional violation of the separation of government and religion,” and that it could contribute to a reinstatement of State Shinto, the term used to broadly describe official government endorsement of the Shinto faith and its applications for stifling dissent or opposition of ultra-nationalist government policies during World War II and the preceding decades.

“The involvement of the government in these religious rituals is tantamount to the restoration of State Shinto, and a threat to freedom of faith,” the organizations said. With the press conference taking place just one day before the enthronement ceremony, the groups also pointed out their opposition to the upcoming Daijosai (Great Thanksgiving Festival), which is scheduled to be held on November 14. In the Daijosai, the new emperor makes a ceremonial offering of blessed rice, sake, and other foodstuffs to Amaterasu, then partakes of the bounty himself to solidify his connection to the deity. Costs for Naruhito’s Daijosai, which includes the construction of two ceremonial halls, are estimated to be approximately 2.7 billion yen (US$25 million).

The Christian groups’ protest echoes the sentiment they expressed in the spring, when they held a press conference to criticize Naruhito’s ascension ceremony along similar lines of reasoning. It’s debatable how much genuine divine reverence the ceremonies stir in the hearts of Japan’s general public and how much the average person sees as just traditional pomp and circumstance for a symbolic gesture in a modern constitutional democracy, and so despite the Christian groups’ opposition the upcoming ceremonies remain scheduled to take place as originally planned.

Source: Kyodo via Tokyo Shimbun via Jin, Japan Times
Top image: Pakutaso
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!