National

What’s behind the controversy over funding of Imperial succession ceremonies in Japan?

Kyodo

The following questions and answers relate to controversy over Imperial succession rituals set to be held following the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1, the day after his father, Emperor Akihito, abdicates.

How does the Constitution separate religion and state?

Article 20 of Japan’s postwar Constitution bans the government from engaging in religious activities, and stipulates that no religious organization shall receive any privileges from the state or exercise any political authority.

What is the status of the role of emperor?

The emperor was considered divine under the prewar Meiji Constitution.

In contrast, he is defined as “the symbol of the state” with no political authority in the current Constitution. Article 4 says “the emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to the government.”

As the Constitution does not elaborate on the activities of other Imperial family members, their engagement in politics is deemed a gray zone.

Why are some rituals viewed as problematic in relation to the Constitution?

Many succession rituals are related to Shinto, in which the emperor is venerated as a descendant of a sun goddess, and some of the rituals are designated as state occasions to be financed by public funds.

For instance, in the Kenji to Shokei no Gi ritual that is treated as a state event, the emperor will inherit traditional regalia including sacred items believed to have been given by the sun goddess Amaterasu to her grandson, Ninigi, when he descended, according to legend, to rule over the Japanese archipelago.

The design of the canopied throne to which the incoming emperor will ascend in the Sokuirei Seiden no Gi is also said to represent the descent of Ninigi to Earth.

What are inner court expenses and palace-related expenses?

Inner court expenses are the personal budgets dedicated to the families of the emperor and crown prince, while palace-related expenses are used for the Imperial family’s official duties such as ceremonies, banquets and public visits to foreign countries.

As palace-related fees are public funds subject to the Imperial Household Agency’s accounting, critics consider the use of the expenses to infringe the separation of religion and state. For the current fiscal year through March 2019, ¥324 million has been allocated for inner court expenses and ¥9.17 billion for palace-related expenses.

What are the views of Japanese courts regarding past succession ceremonies?

In relation to the enthronement ceremonies of Emperor Akihito in 1990, a number of lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of the rites were filed across Japan but they were all dismissed.

However, the Osaka High Court pointed out in a ruling in 1995 that doubts remain over whether the government financing of Shinto-linked rituals breaches the Constitution.

Are there any legal actions being taken against succession ceremonies next year?

At least 120 people, including Christians and Buddhists, are planning to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court, possibly early this month, to block state funding of the Shinto-linked enthronement ceremony and the Daijosai rite, the Great Food Offering Ceremony.