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Editorial: Constitutional issues ignored for emperor’s ceremony

  • October 23, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:20 p.m.
  • English Press

Emperor Naruhito’s ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne was officially proclaimed to the world at the Sokuirei-Seiden-no-Gi enthronement ceremony held at the Imperial Palace on Oct. 22.


The new emperor vowed to honor the Constitution and fulfill his responsibility as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people of Japan. His address was essentially no different from what his father, Akihito, now the emperor emeritus, said at the time of his enthronement in 1989.


Naruhito also expressed his hope for international peace and amity, which was appropriate since many foreign dignitaries had been invited to this ceremony.


However, we definitely disapprove of the manner in which the government proceeded with the various rites of imperial succession. It shunned public discourse, refused to heed opposite views and insisted on “following precedents” in many cases.


The Sokuirei-Seiden-no-Gi itself has always been considered incompatible with the principles of sovereignty of the people and separation of church and state. Specifically, the platform-like “takamikura” on which the emperor stands during the ceremony not only traces its origin to ancient mythology about the emperor’s “divine” roots, but it also physically elevates the emperor above everyone, including the heads of the three branches of government.


Also on display during the ceremony were two of the three Imperial Regalia–or “the Three Sacred Treasures”–a sword and “magatama” jewel.


When questions were raised, the government refused to do anything, saying they had been “addressed already at the time of the previous imperial enthronement,” although the Osaka High Court had expressed doubts.


The government simply stuck to the form established during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) to heighten the authority of the emperor.


We believe the government should have explored a new form that is more in line with the current era, especially now that the public supports the image of the “people’s emperor and empress,” which Akihito and Michiko strove to achieve during the Heisei Era (1989-2019).


To mark Naruhito’s enthronement, 550,000 pardons were granted. Although the criterion of amnesty has been narrowed since Akihito’s enthronement to reduce the number to about one-fifth, there was considerable public opposition to the administration’s arbitrarily overturning of the judiciary’s decisions.


And “packaging” something like this with an imperial ritual makes it feel like a throwback to the undemocratic times when the people were at the mercy of their despotic leaders.


Moreover, the pardons went against society’s call for protecting crime victims. But the government was only interested in following precedents.


The government’s attitude is no different with respect to Daijosai (first ceremonial offering of rice by newly enthroned emperor) scheduled for next month.


At a news conference in autumn last year, Naruhito’s younger brother, Fumihito, questioned the appropriateness of spending state funds on this ritual of a strongly religious nature.


It appears that even Emperor Hirohito, posthumously called Emperor Showa, was not comfortable about holding this ritual with government expenses. He reportedly asked an aide if it would be possible to set aside some of the imperial family’s personal spending to start a reserve fund.


But the government typically insisted the issue was already “settled by the Cabinet” and refused to give it any serious consideration.


All these matters have to do with the Constitution, the very foundation on which Japan exists. The government’s attitude can only be described as utterly lacking in sincerity.


Akihito first indicated his intention to abdicate three years ago. There was plenty of time for public discussion of pertinent issues, but the government simply chose to do nothing.


Beneath the pomp and circumstance, numerous unresolved issues remain.

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