Photo/IllutrationEmperor Naruhito heads toward the Yuki Hall on Nov. 14 as part of the Daijokyu-no-Gi rite held within the Imperial Palace grounds. (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

About 510 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attended a core rite of Emperor Naruhito's secretive Daijosai ceremony on Nov. 14, held mostly behind a white curtain.

The Daijokyu-no-Gi rite began at 6:30 p.m. and ended at about 3 a.m. the next day.

The rite is considered the high point of the Daijosai ceremony held to mark the enthronement of Naruhito, who was dressed in white silk, considered the highest form of purity and sacredness.

The rite involves Naruhito offering and partaking of newly harvested rice at two temporary halls within the Daijokyu complex constructed exclusively for the Daijosai ceremony within the Imperial Palace Grounds.

The government set aside about 2.44 billion yen ($22 million) for the Daijosai. Much of the details referred back to the precedents set by Naruhito's father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, when he took part in his Daijosai ceremony in 1990.

Some measures were taken to reduce the cost of the ceremony including reducing the number of invitations extended and simplifying the construction of some of the Daijokyu structures.

Imperial Household Agency workers, acting in their public capacities, took part in the construction of the Daijokyu complex and in the ceremony's management.

Though in the past questions have been raised about the propriety of using public funds for an event with highly religious overtones, little debate was heard in the government over the event, despite the veiled nature of the ceremony.

During the Daijosai, the emperor offers rice to his imperial ancestors and various deities. He then offers a prayer for peace and an abundant harvest for the nation.

Scholars and religious groups have criticized the use of public funds for the ceremony on grounds that it violates the constitutional separation of politics and religion.

The Constitution bans public servants and the government from taking part in religious activities.

Koichi Yokota, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Kyushu University, criticized the government for not discussing the constitutional ramifications of the Daijosai.

"The Daijosai is a religious ceremony," he said. "The government has admitted the public character of the event and was deeply involved in the ceremony through the distribution of public funds and the involvement of public servants. There is a strong likelihood of a constitutional violation."

Crown Prince Fumihito, Naruhito's younger brother, raised a similar point during a news conference held last year on his birthday.

The crown prince suggested the imperial household private budget be used to pay for the Daijosai ceremony. Fumihito added that he raised the issue a number of times with Imperial Household Agency officials, but they never listened to his views.

Fumihito told the news conference that he felt similar doubts when his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, held his Daijosai ceremony.

In Naruhito's case, the government had more than three years to discuss how to handle funding his Daijosai because Akihito indicated in August 2016 that he wanted to abdicate in favor of his eldest son.

Instead of conducting a comprehensive review of the ceremony, government officials stuck to the contention that public funds could be used for the Daijosai because it was an event with a "highly public" character.

That view also allowed the government to have government officials take part in the ceremony in their capacity as civil servants.