Photo/IllutrationThe “Shinkaden” hall in the Imperial Palace (From the Imperial Household Agency website)

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Prince Fumihito wasn't just airing an idea when he vented his concerns about the constitutionality of using public funds for a key and costly ritual related to the enthronement of a new emperor.

It emerges that he offered a solid alternative to the Imperial Household Agency over the “Daijosai” (Grand Thanksgiving Festival) to be held next autumn to commemorate the ascension of his brother Crown Prince Naruhito as emperor in May.

Fumihito proposed using the “Shinkaden” hall in the Imperial Palace for the ceremony instead of constructing new facilities, called “Daijokyu,” that will later be torn down, sources said Dec. 24.

Fumihito's proposal was aimed at drastically cutting costs for the ceremony and covering them with the imperial family’s private funds, rather than public funds, they added.

Daijosai is performed by a new emperor only once during his reign. It is believed to have been started by Emperor Tenmu in the seventh century.

In the ceremony’s key ritual, called “Daijokyu no Gi,” the new emperor presents rice harvested that year to the deities and prays for peace and an abundant harvest for the nation.

The use of public funds for Daijosai generated much controversy when it was held for Emperor Akihito in 1990. Because of its religious overtones, the government acknowledged it was difficult to hold the ceremony as a state act. Even so, it used taxpayer money on grounds it is an important ritual for imperial succession.

That triggered a spate of lawsuits over the constitutionality of the prefectural governors and other dignitaries attending the ceremony due to the Constitution's stipulation on the separation of politics and religion.

Because the Supreme Court has yet to hand down a judgment on the issue, there is still concern that the use of public funds for Daijosai is unconstitutional.

The government has already decided to use public funds for the Daijosai next November, just as it did in 1990. However, religious groups and ordinary citizens have filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court to block it.

The ceremony will cost 2.719 billion yen ($24.7 million), up from 2.249 billion yen in 1990. Costs for construction of the Daijokyu structures on the grounds of the Imperial Palace will come to 1.907 billion yen.

According to the sources, Fumihito believes it is vital that events held to commemorate a new emperor should be conducted in accordance with the understanding of the people.

They said the prince flouted the idea to Noriyuki Kazaoka, the former grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, after Akihito’s hopes of abdicating became known to his inner circle.

Fumihito told the aide, “It is not appropriate to use public funds.”

He also expressed the same sentiment to the current grand steward, Shinichiro Yamamoto.

Fumihito apparently demanded that the agency consider his opinion seriously before the government decides to use public funds for Daijosai.

At the time, Fumihito said, “The heart of the ritual will not wane even if it is held at Shinkaden in the imperial palace without constructing Daijokyu.”

Shinkaden is a hall that honors gods throughout the country. It is used to hold the annual Niinamesai ceremony to express gratitude for good harvests.

Fumihito's proposal, had it been accepted, would have brought the costs of holding Daijosai to several hundreds of millions of yen that could be covered with the imperial family’s private funds.

Fumihito made his views known publicly in a Nov. 22 news conference, which was a brave thing for him to do as it is extremely rare for an imperial family member to express doubts over a government decision.

The prince also griped that the grand stewards had no intention of listening to what he had said.

After Naruhito becomes emperor, Fumihito will become the first in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Opinion was divided about the appropriateness of Fumihito's remarks as they differ from the government’s policy.

However, he smoothed ruffled feathers by telling those around him: “I have no intention to express objections to what the government has decided. I simply want to let the people know that there are various opinions in the imperial family in the hope that my opinion will become a reference point in future discussions.”

When Fumihito becomes crown prince, his position will be next to that of the emperor who is prohibited from wielding political power under the Constitution. Thus, he will be required to be more circumspect from May next year.

“I think he felt the news conference was his last chance to express his opinions,” one of the sources said.