Prince Akishino, the younger son of Emperor Akihito, in 2016 proposed cutting the cost of a key Shinto-linked Imperial succession ritual by using an existing hall rather than constructing a new one, Imperial Household Agency sources said Tuesday.
The prince shared the idea with then Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Noriyuki Kazaoka, expressing his opposition to the use of state funds for the Daijosai grand thanksgiving rite that is now set to be held in November next year to mark the enthronement of his brother Crown Prince Naruhito.
After the 85-year-old Emperor indicated his desire to step down in a rare video message in August 2016, Prince Akishino told Kazaoka the expenses for the rite should be covered by inner court budgets — personal expenses dedicated to the families of the Emperor and Crown Prince, the sources said.
The Daijosai is the first annual Niinamesai harvest festival performed by a new emperor and always follows accession to the throne.
Although annual Niinamesai rituals are covered by the Emperor’s personal expenses, the Daijosai will be financed by public “palace-related expenses” used for the Imperial family’s official duties such as ceremonies, banquets and public visits to foreign countries.
Prince Akishino suggested performing the ritual in the existing hall used for Niinamesai rituals, but the agency told the prince it was not feasible because the existing hall is too small to hold the Daijosai, the sources said.
The main ritual of the Daijosai on Nov. 14-15, 2019, designated as an Imperial event, will be held in a temporary hall called Daijokyu. Following precedent, the hall will be constructed with state funds. The previous Daijosai in November 1990 cost about ¥2.2 billion ($20 million) in state funds.
At the event, the new Emperor will offer newly harvested rice to the Imperial ancestors and the Tenjin Chigi, the Shinto deities of heaven and earth, while praying for peace and abundant harvests for the country and the people.
Earlier in December, more than 240 people including Christians and Buddhists filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court seeking to block state funding of the Daijosai. They claim use of public money for the religious ceremony would conflict with the Constitution, which prohibits the government from engaging in religious activities.