Prince Fumihito, the younger son of Emperor Akihito, questioned whether the state should finance one of the Shinto-linked rituals to be held following the imperial succession next year at a press conference held before his 53rd birthday Friday.
The prince also urged his daughter Princess Mako’s boyfriend, Kei Komuro, whose mother is involved in a financial dispute with her former fiance over money spent on Komuro’s education, to deal appropriately with the issue if he wants to marry her.
Prince Fumihito will be promoted to first in line to the throne after the enthronement of his brother Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1, 2019.
He expressed doubts at the press conference about the constitutionality of the Daijosai grand thanksgiving rite to be held in November next year, saying he believes it is a «highly religious» event.
The supreme law bans the state from engaging in religious activities. Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion in which the emperor is venerated as a descendant of the sun goddess.
«I wonder whether it is appropriate to cover the highly religious event with state funds,» the prince said, adding that he believes the ritual should be financed from money used to fund the emperor’s private expenses.
The prince said he was also opposed to using public funds the last time the rite was held, back in 1990 a year after his father ascended the throne in 1989.
Although the ceremony will be treated as an imperial event, not as a state occasion, critics claim it would threaten the separation of religion and state if public funds are put toward it.
The prince said he has conveyed his views to the chief of the Imperial Household Agency, but the government has already decided to use public funds for the ceremonies in line with the previous imperial succession rites for Emperor Akihito.
«I feel regrettable that the agency did not listen to me,» the prince said.
In response to his remarks, the agency’s Grand Steward Shinichiro Yamamoto said he feels «painful» hearing him say that and «sorry» if the prince took his attitude that way.
But Yamamoto added, «As the previous Daijosai (funded by public money) was held with public support, it is reasonable to follow the precedent.»
The Daijosai is the name given to the first annual «Niinamesai» harvest festival to be performed by a new emperor and always follows an accession to the throne.
In the rite to be held from Nov. 14 to 15, the new emperor will offer new rice to the imperial ancestors and to the Tenjin Chigi, the deities of heaven and earth, while praying for peace and abundant harvests for the country and the people.
Although annual Niinamesai rituals are covered by the emperor’s personal expenses, the Daijosai will be financed by public «palace-related expenses» used for the imperial family’s official duties such as ceremonies and state banquets.
In relation to the previous Daijosai in November 1990, which cost about 2.2 billion yen ($ 19 million), a number of lawsuits contesting its constitutionality were filed across Japan, but they were all dismissed.
But a 1995 ruling by the Osaka High Court noted that doubts remain whether the government financing of Shinto-linked rituals breaches the Constitution banning the state from engaging in religious activities.
Prior to the upcoming Daijosai, at least 120 people including Christian and Buddhist followers are planning to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court possibly in early December to block the state funding of the rite, according to their representatives.
On his daughter’s engagement, the prince said Komuro «has to solve the problems that have surfaced. If (their marriage) cannot be celebrated by many people, we cannot hold the betrothal ceremony of «Nosai no Gi,» which was originally scheduled to take place on March 4, this year.
The agency announced in September last year that a wedding between Princess Mako and Komuro, both 27, would take place on Nov. 4, 2018.
But the agency said in February that the couple will push back the schedule until 2020 following a string of reports that Komuro’s mother is in a dispute over money with her former fiance over her son’s educational expenses, which the former fiance shouldered.
In August, Komuro, a paralegal at a Tokyo law firm, started a three-year course at Fordham University’s law school in New York, aiming to pass the state’s bar examination.
The imperial succession slated for next year comes after the 84-year-old emperor expressed his desire to step down due to his advanced age and failing health. Following the abdication of the emperor on April 30, 2019, Prince Fumihito will be given the new title «koshi» as the first in line to the throne.
All — Kyodo News+