Photo/IllutrationEmperor Naruhito and Empress Masako head to the Imperial Palace on Oct. 18 (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

On the eve of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement rite, criticisms remain that the government failed to address concerns about the constitutionality of the ceremony and simply followed precedent.

The concerns center on the constitutionality in light of the principles of popular sovereignty and the separation of state and religion.

The government, without much review, decided in September that the enthronement ceremony on Oct. 22 will be much like the previous one in 1990.

When the ceremony of the enthronement of Emperor Akihito, Naruhito’s father, was held in November that year, details of the event followed those of the now-defunct imperial ordinance of the accession and enthronement rites.

The government had ample time to revisit the issue for Naruhito's enthronement if it so desired. A special measures law allowing Akihito to abdicate was enacted more than two years ago, in June 2017.

But the government’s committee preparing ceremonies related to Naruhito’s enthronement decided to follow the Akihito precedent after three meetings that lasted little more than an hour combined.

Akinori Takamori, an expert on the issue of the imperial family, denounced the government’s failure to set new rules on the enthronement ceremony as “negligence.”

“Lawmakers should debate in the Diet to make rules on the enthronement ceremony, as well as the imperial succession and abdication, that are appropriate to the Constitution," he said, noting the urgency of this matter for future imperial successors.

The ordinance in question, which was called Tokyoku-rei, was set in the late Meiji Era (1868-1912), when sovereignty rested with the emperor. It was abolished after the end of World War II.

But the government decided to follow the procedure for Akihito’s enthronement as no detailed rules were in place for it.

The current Imperial House Law provides no guide as to how the rite should be performed. It merely states that “the ceremony of the enthronement must be held when the imperial succession took place.”

One of the criticisms of the ceremony concerns an imperial sword and "magatama" jewel, which are placed on the Takamikura canopied throne during the ceremony.

The sword and the jewel, part of the Imperial Regalia, are closely associated with the mythology of “Tenson Korin” (heavenly descent), or the imperial family’s origin, which are featured in “Nihon Shoki” (Chronicle of Japan) and “Kojiki” (Records of Ancient Matters). Both books were compiled more than 1,000 years ago.

In addition, it is said the Takamikura throne, which includes a 1.3-meter platform, also is the embodiment of the mythology.

Despite basically following the imperial ordinance compiled under the era with the imperial sovereignty, the government examined the planned ceremony process for Akihito's enthronement for the first time under the postwar Constitution and tried not to violate its stipulations on popular sovereignty and separating state and religion.

Among the efforts were placing the emperor’s and government’s seals used for official functions, along with the Imperial Regalia.

“The arrangement was meant to lessen the religious atmosphere of the ceremony,” recalled a senior official with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau who was familiar with the effort.

Another arrangement was to allow the prime minister to stand on the floor of the Matsu-no-Ma state room where the ceremony will be performed.

There were calls for the prime minister to lead banzai cheers after descending on the garden in front of the room, as political leaders did in past enthronement rites.

But former Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, who was in office at the time of Akihito’s enthronement, dismissed the calls.

“We wanted to demonstrate to the world that Japan is a democracy with popular sovereignty, a nation different from the prewar period,” he recalled.

In addition, the prime minister had to say, “To celebrate your majesty’s enthronement,” before leading the banzai chant for the 1990 event.

The new step was added to limit the purpose of banzai cheers as some critics mentioned that a scene of politicians chanting banzai is a grim reminder of the wartime practice under the imperial sovereignty.

Still, such efforts have proved insufficient to entirely dispel public concerns about the constitutional principles of popular sovereignty and separation of government and religion.

A string of lawsuits were filed to prevent the government from providing public funds for imperial ceremonies, including the enthronement.

Although the Osaka High Court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand in March 1995, it ruled that the Takamikura throne, as well as the sword and jewel, contain “religious aspects.” It also said that "the argument that the imperial rite violates the Constitution cannot be flatly denied."

On the emperor standing in a place where he looks down on the prime minister, who is the people’s representative, the court said, “It cannot be denied that there still is an aspect that does not match the philosophy of the current Constitution.”