Top court OKs officials’ attendance of Shinto rite

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld two lower court rulings that Oita Gov. Morihiko Hiramatsu and two other officials did not violate the Constitution by using public funds to attend a Shinto rite related to the 1990 enthronement of Emperor Akihito.

The governor, along with the then vice governor of Oita and the head of the prefectural agricultural department, attended a Shinto rite in the town of Kusu in which new rice crops were harvested to be used in another Shinto rite, known as “Daijosai.”

Daijosai rites are Imperial ceremonies related to the Imperial “Sokui-no-rei” enthronement ceremony.

It is the first time the nation’s top court has ruled on the constitutionality of Daijosai rites. The Supreme Court is to issue another ruling Thursday on a similar suit related to the attendance of a Daijosai rite by the governor of Kagoshima.

The No. 3 Petty Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that, as the ceremony involved the use of religious materials and was carried out according to Shinto customs, the participation of the governor and other officials constituted religious acts.

But the ruling also stated that their participation — as holders of important positions in the ceremony’s locality — was a form of social etiquette aimed at congratulating the Emperor’s enthronement.

The court ruled, therefore, that the extent of the religiosity of their actions did not cross the relevant boundaries defined in the Constitution.

The Oita Prefectural Government forked out about 28,500 yen to cover travel costs and daily allowances related to the officials’ attendance of the Kusu event.

According to the Oita District Court ruling, although the rite was religious, the officials were merely observing social formalities by attending and were not violating the Constitution.

The Fukuoka High Court also ruled that the officials were showing respect for the Emperor by attending, rather than exhibiting support for the Shinto religion.

Similar suits have been filed in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Kagoshima prefectures, and they have all been rejected via district court and high court rulings.

The Sokui-no-rei ceremony, in which the Emperor offered prayers at the Imperial sanctuary and formally proclaimed his accession to the throne, was held Nov. 12, 1990.

The Daijosai rites, which are only held in the event of an enthronement, were held Nov. 22 and 23 the same year.

During the rites, the Emperor made offerings of newly harvested rice and wine, and read a message to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu and other Imperial deities.

The ceremonies related to the Emperor’s enthronement were delayed to observe a year of mourning after the death of the Emperor Showa and to wait for the rice needed for the Daijosai rites.