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Emperor Naruhito’s secretive enthronement rite embodies tradition

  • KYODO NEWS VIA AP
                                Japan’s Empress Masako, center, walked toward Yukiden, one of two main halls, where Emperor Naruhito attended the Daijosai, or great thanksgiving festival, at the Imperial Palace last week.

    KYODO NEWS VIA AP

    Japan’s Empress Masako, center, walked toward Yukiden, one of two main halls, where Emperor Naruhito attended the Daijosai, or great thanksgiving festival, at the Imperial Palace last week.

  • KYODO NEWS VIA AP
                                Japan’s Emperor Naruhito performed a secretive and controversial ritual, a once-in-a-reign event to give thanks for good harvests, pray for the peace and safety of the nation and pay tribute to his family’s ancestral gods.

    KYODO NEWS VIA AP

    Japan’s Emperor Naruhito performed a secretive and controversial ritual, a once-in-a-reign event to give thanks for good harvests, pray for the peace and safety of the nation and pay tribute to his family’s ancestral gods.

TOKYO >> Throughout the year, a series of ceremonies have been held to mark the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito and the beginning of the new imperial era, Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony.”

The Daijosai, the last of three major imperial ceremonies, is considered the most important rite for an emperor. It is also the most secretive and controversial.

The ceremony originated centuries ago. It is attended by the emperor and a handful of assistants, all dressed in traditional garb. According to Shinto belief, the rite involves deities descending from the heavens, including the goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestor of the Imperial Family.

The Daijosai for Naruhito began in the early evening of Nov. 14 and ran through the early hours of Nov. 15 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It involved the new emperor praying for peace and a rich harvest.

Two temporary shrines, representing eastern and western Japan, were constructed for the ceremony. The ritual began with the emperor entering the eastern shrine, lit dimly by traditional-style oil lamps. In it were newly harvested rice, fish, fruit, sake and other food from across the country. The emperor dedicated the food as an offering to Amaterasu and other Shinto gods.

Controversy surrounds the Daijosai because some scholars and activists believe it violates the country’s Constitution, which stipulates the separation of state and religion. The issue is particularly important because Japan’s militarism in the 1930s and 40s was based on the worship of Emperor Hirohito (posthumously known as Emperor Showa) as a living god.

Article 20 of the post-war Constitution reads: “No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority … The State and its organs shall refrain from … religious activity.”

The Japanese government spent some 2.44 billion yen (about $22.4 million) for the Daijosai, and hundreds of people have filed lawsuits in response.

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