National

State sticks to stance on funding Imperial ritual despite Prince Akishino’s misgivings

Kyodo

The government said Friday its position on using state funds to hold a key Shinto ritual during next year’s Imperial succession remains unchanged, despite the fact that the younger son of Emperor Akihito has raised a question about financing the religious event.

“We are aware that his highness was just stating his own idea. We have no plan to make any response,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told a news conference.

Ahead of his 53rd birthday on Friday, Prince Akishino raised doubts about the constitutionality of the Daijosai (Great Food Offering Ceremony), because the Constitution bans the state from engaging in religious activities.

The Daijosai is scheduled to be carried out over two days from Nov. 14 as an Imperial event, rather than a state occasion. Critics say it could threaten the separation of religion and state if the costs are paid by the government.

Nishimura said the government has decided to cover the cost with public funds, following a precedent set in 1990, the year after Emperor Akihito ascended the throne upon the death of Emperor Hirohito.

The prince’s remarks caused a stir because the supreme law stipulates the emperor “shall not have powers related to the government.” Members of the Imperial family are thus supposed to distance themselves from political affairs.

Prince Akishino will become first in line to the throne after his elder brother Crown Prince Naruhito becomes the new emperor on May 1. Their father, Emperor Akihito, will abdicate a day beforehand.

But Nishimura stressed the government does not see any constitutional problem because the prince’s remarks do not have an impact on the government’s decisions.

Speaking to a Diet panel, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the series of Imperial succession rituals “do not run counter to the sovereignty of the people and separation of religion and state stipulated by the Constitution.”

During his news conference on Nov. 22, Prince Akishino said he was opposed to using public funds to cover the previous Daijosai and that the upcoming one should be financed with fundsused to cover the personal expenses of the Emperor.

Asked about the prince’s assertions that the chief of the Imperial Household Agency did not listen to his opinions, Nishimura declined to comment, other than to say, “We are aware that the Imperial Household Agency has explained the situation to his highness.”

Some government officials expressed frustration with the prince’s comments and cast doubt on the Imperial Household Agency’s response. A source at the Prime Minister’s Office said, “I don’t think it was appropriate, given his status, even if that was his own idea.”

A high-ranking government official said the agency “failed to suppress the remarks.” But a senior official at the agency said it is impossible to do so because members of the Imperial family also have opinions.

“But I can’t understand why he made remarks that could cause ripples as the Crown Prince has already approved how to perform the Daijosai.”

At the same news conference, Prince Akishino also adopted a strict stance on postponing the marriage of his daughter, Princess Mako, with university boyfriend Kei Komuro, asking Komuro’s family to resolve their outstanding financial issues if they want the wedding to go ahead.

“If the two still have feelings for marriage, there should be responses accordingly,” the prince, the younger son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, said at a news conference held before his 53rd birthday Friday.

The Komuro side “needs to clear the issue,” Prince Akishino said of the financial dispute hanging over the family, asking them to make their explanations public.

“If (their marriage) cannot be celebrated by many people, we cannot hold the betrothal ceremony called Nosai no Gi,” which was originally scheduled to take place on March 4 this year.

In September 2017 the couple announced their engagement after receiving the Emperor’s blessing and said their wedding would take place on Nov. 4 this year.

But the Imperial Household Agency said in February the couple would push the date back to 2020, with the princess saying through the agency she “came to recognize the lack of time to make sufficient preparations.”

The abrupt postponement followed a string of reports that Komuro’s mother is involved in a dispute over money, including her son’s educational expenses, which her former fiance shouldered.

In the meantime, Komuro, a paralegal at a Tokyo law firm, started a three-year course at Fordham University’s law school in New York in August, aiming to pass the state bar examination.

As to how the princess is faring in light of the developments, Prince Akishino only said, “I don’t know as I have not had much chance to talk to her recently.” His wife, Princess Kiko, said at the same news conference, “From the end of last year, as the temperature started to fall, there have been more cases where my eldest daughter did not feel well.

“But despite such circumstances, my daughter has worked hard to fulfill the assignments given to her,” she said. “I would like to continue to watch over her carefully.”

The financial issues involving the Komuros first surfaced in a weekly magazine in December last year.

According to the former fiance of Komuro’s mother, he lent her some ¥4 million to cover her son’s education and his living costs between 2010 and 2012, the period when they were engaged.

After they broke off the engagement, the former fiance asked her to pay back the loan, but the Komuro side claimed the money had been donated, according to a source close to the matter.

The Komuro family gave a similar explanation to the princess’ family, who were not notified beforehand of what was reported as a “debt problem,” the source said.

In addition to demanding that the Komuros resolve the matter and issue a public explanation, they have also asked Komuro to present a life plan, including the career he intends to pursue after his paralegal job, as a condition for his formal engagement and marriage to Princess Mako, the source said.

Following the request, conveyed between late 2017 and early this year, Komuro decided to attend the law school in New York, the source said.

Komuro and Princess Mako met in 2012 at International Christian University in Tokyo and soon began dating.