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Abdication, enthronement rituals must fit with Emperor as symbol of the state

The Yomiuri ShimbunAll possible steps must be taken on ceremonial preparations to ensure that the planned Imperial succession can be celebrated by a wide spectrum of the people.

The government has launched a preparatory committee to study ceremonies related to the Emperor’s abdication on April 30, 2019.

Headed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the panel consists of seven members, including deputy chief cabinet secretaries and the grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency. It plans to compile a basic policy by mid-March.

Abdication ceremonies will be held for the first time under the constitutional system of government. It will be the first abdication at all in about 200 years since that of Emperor Kokaku during the Edo period (1603-1867). From the Meiji era (1868-1912) onward, abdications and related ceremonies had not been contemplated.

It is important to make the planned ceremonies fit with the system under which the emperor is recognized as the symbol of the state.

During the Edo period, an emperor’s declaration of ceding the throne was read by a deputy. If this procedure is followed, it would mean that the Emperor has abdicated on his own initiative. This could violate Article 4 of the Constitution, which states that the emperor “shall not have powers related to government.”

Another point to note regards the “Kenji to shokei no gi” ceremony, in which sacred treasures and other items closely associated with the Imperial family are inherited by the new emperor immediately after the abdication of the previous emperor. If these items are transferred directly between the outgoing emperor and the incoming one, it could violate the top law for the same constitutional reason.

Study must be conducted fully about how the Emperor will be engaged in the planned ceremonies.

These two rituals — along with ceremonies such as the enthronement ceremony to declare the ascension of the new emperor for both at home and abroad — will likely be held as acts of the Emperor in matters of state based on the Constitution.

Flawless ceremonies vital

Preparations for official ceremonies, except for acts of the emperor in matters of state, are also indispensable. Representative of these is the Daijosai ceremony in which the emperor offers newly harvested crops to the gods and prays for the peace of the country. The Daijosai will be held in the autumn of next year to wrap up a series of principal ceremonies.

When the era was changed from Showa to Heisei in 1989, public money was spent to hold the Daijosai. This is because the ceremony had an official aspect. But the spending of public money was criticized by not a few people from the viewpoint of separation of politics and religion as stipulated by the Constitution.

In a relevant lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled that the spending of public funds was constitutional. The government should adequately explain anew about how the Daijosai ceremony is positioned.

If there is any flaw in holding ceremonies, it may dampen public sentiment for celebrating the Imperial succession. The preparatory committee is scheduled to hear opinions from experts. Discussions must be deepened based on a variety of knowledge and information.

Expenses related to the previous ceremonies amounted to ¥12.3 billion. Isn’t there any room for simplifying the ceremonies? Scrutiny is called for in this regard.

There are many things for which the government must make preparations separately from the panel. Considering possible impacts on the lives of the people, it is desirable for the name of the new era to be announced as early as possible.

Some people are apprehensive about whether the abdicated emperor, or joko, will stand on a par with the new emperor. Regarding the activities of the joko, clear principles must also be decided in advance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12, 2018)Speech



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