Once again, the government has displayed its chronic reluctance to engage in debate, which goes hand in hand with its habitual disregard of the spirit of the Constitution and avoidance of inconvenient discourse.

In determining how the rites of imperial succession should be conducted when the current emperor abdicates, the government has indicated an official outline regarding some of the procedures.

Of these, the government's decision on "Kenji-to-Shokei-no-Gi" (ceremony of succession of the sacred sword and other treasures) must have left many Japanese unconvinced.

The ceremony itself is short, lasting just 10 minutes or so, during which an Imperial Household Agency chamberlain places the ceremonial sword and "magatama" (comma-shaped beads) before the new emperor.

But the ritual, rooted in ancient Japanese mythology, is deeply religious in nature. As such, it raises the fundamental question of why this ritual should be held as an affair of the state, given that the Constitution separates religion and the state.

Moreover, female members of the imperial family are barred from this ceremony, and only adult male members are allowed to attend.

The government claims this is merely in keeping with precedents. But the latter rule was set according to "Tokyoku-rei" (Regulations governing imperial accession to the throne), which was instituted toward the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) but abolished upon the enactment of the current Constitution.

This issue was hardly debated at the last imperial succession, when Akihito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, because the rite was held soon after the death of his father, Hirohito.

However, the issue was later raised in the Diet. And the prevalent thinking now is that the government's decision to ignore the controversy and stick to the "no women" precedents was motivated by its wish to avoid any renewed discussion over whether to allow female descendents of an emperor or male descendents of maternal lineage to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Whether to recognize a female emperor or an emperor of female lineage to ascend the throne has been a subject of controversy for many years, and we can appreciate the need to proceed with caution.

However, banning female royals from the ceremony, as well as any discussion of imperial succession, is an altogether different story.

We suspect that the government, in its excessive consideration for right-wingers who support the current administration, is deviating or retrogressing from what is deemed acceptable in today's society.

Last year, the government sought input from four specialists on the imperial system.

Overall, these individuals supported adherence to precedents. At the same time, however, Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus at Kyoto Sangyo University, opined, "(The rules on imperial succession rites) should be in conformity with commonly-accepted ideas at home as well as abroad. And in the case of the Kenji-to-Shokei-no-Gi ceremony, attendance by both male and female underage members of the imperial family would be desirable."

And Keiko Hongo, a professor at the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo, pointed out, "To perpetuate traditions means to fully understand their history and precedents and adopt methods that are most practicable and suited to the present time."

Both opinions are perfectly reasonable.

Yet, the government's reactions raise the question: What was the purpose of seeking these experts' opinions?

In the days ahead, the government will finalize the details of various rites of imperial succession, including Daijosai (first ceremonial offering of harvested rice by the newly-enthroned emperor) which was challenged by Prince Fumihito.

Article 1 of the Japanese Constitution stipulates, "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power."

As such, any matter related to the emperor must be discussed broadly and deeply in keeping with the Constitution, and to the satisfaction of the majority of Japanese citizens.

Instead of letting the government make arbitrary decisions, the Diet must fulfill its responsibility of keeping the administration in check.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 23