Photo/IllutrationRepresentatives of Protestant and Catholic groups hold a news conference in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on April 30 to protest rituals related to the ascension of Emperor Naruhito which they consider a violation of the constitutional separation of the state and religion. (Ryuichi Kitano)

Protestant and Catholic groups in Japan contended that rituals related to the ascension of Emperor Naruhito were in violation of the constitutional separation of the state and religion.

They also argued that the events marked a step toward the restoration of state Shinto and violated the basic principle of the Constitution that sovereignty resided with the people.

The groups held a news conference April 30, the day Akihito abdicated after 30 years on the throne, to argue their point.

The groups were particularly concerned about two of the many ceremonies planned for the ascension.

One was the Kenji-to-Shokei-no-Gi, which took place on May 1. The Christian groups touched upon the fact that the ceremony of passing on imperial regalia and seals to the new emperor had religious connotations because the regalia are based on Shinto myths.

The other event is the Sokuirei-Seiden-no-Gi, planned for October.

During the ceremony to proclaim the enthronement of the emperor and receive felicitations from representatives of the people as well as from abroad, Naruhito will stand on a "takamikura," an elaborate throne-like structure that the Christian groups consider another religious symbol because past emperors who stood on the pedestal were considered to be living gods descended from a long imperial line that extended back to Amaterasu-omikami, the legendary sun goddess.

Both of the events are state acts, organized and paid for by the government. The Christian groups consider that a violation of the Constitution.

The groups are also criticizing the planned use of state funds to pay for the November Daijosai ceremony in which Naruhito will present rice harvested this year to imperial ancestors and the gods, partake of the rice and pray for peace and abundant harvest for the nation.

The groups contend the ceremony is a private religious ceremony of the imperial family.