Emperor Naruhito rides in a car during the royal parade in Tokyo on Sunday. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
national

Symbolic night with 'goddess' to wrap up emperor's accession rites

46 Comments
By Elaine Lies

On Thursday evening, Emperor Naruhito will dress in pure white robes and be ushered into a dark wooden hall for his last major enthronement rite: spending the night with a "goddess."

Centered on Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess from whom conservatives believe the emperor has descended, the Daijosai is the most overtly religious ceremony of the emperor's accession rituals after his father Akihito's abdication.

Scholars and the government say it consists of a feast, rather than, as has been persistently rumored, conjugal relations with the goddess.

Although Naruhito's grandfather Hirohito, in whose name soldiers fought World War Two, was later stripped of his divinity, the ritual continues.

That has prompted anger - and lawsuits - from critics who say it smacks of the militaristic past and violates the constitutional separation of religion and state, as the government pays the cost of 2.7 billion yen.

WHAT HAPPENS?

At about 7 p.m., Naruhito enters a specially-built shrine compound by firelight, disappearing behind white curtains.

In a dimly-lit room he kneels by piled straw mats draped in white, said to be a resting place for the goddess, as two shrine maidens bring in offerings of food, from rice to abalone, for Naruhito to use in filling 32 plates made from oak leaves.

Then he bows and prays for peace for the Japanese people before eating rice, millet and rice wine "with" the goddess.

The entire ritual is repeated in another room, ending at about 3 a.m.

Long a secret, the ceremony was re-enacted this year by NHK public television, an unprecedented move scholars say may have been a government initiative to dispel rumors.

"There is a bed, there is a coverlet, and the emperor keeps his distance from it," said John Breen of Kyoto's International Research Center for Japanese Studies, adding that de-mystifying the ceremony could be a government defense.

"Kingmaking is a sacred business, it's transforming a man or a woman into something other than a man or a woman," he said, pointing to mystical elements in Britain's coronation functions. "So the Japanese government's denial that there's anything mystical to it is bizarre, but the purpose is pretty clear - it's to fend off accusations there's something unconstitutional going on."

HOW ANCIENT IS THE TRADITION?

Believed to have started in the 700s and observed for about 700 years, the ritual was then interrupted for nearly three centuries, a gap that Breen said led to the loss of much of its original meaning.

Although believed to have initially been one of the less important enthronement rites, the ceremony gained status and its current form from 1868, as Japan began to turn itself into a modern nation-state, unified under the emperor.

WHAT IS THE FUNDING CONTROVERSY?

At a news conference, the emperor's younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, wondered if it was "appropriate" to use public money, suggesting instead the private funds of the imperial family, which would necessitate a far smaller ceremony.

But Koichi Shin, the head of a group of 300 people suing the government to halt the ritual, and demand damages of 10,000 yen each for "pain and suffering", says that would still not be satisfactory, as the private funds are still tax money.

With part of one lawsuit thrown out by the Supreme Court and another set for hearing after the rite, the court battle is mostly symbolic, as concern over nationalism and the emperor fades.

At then Emperor Akihito's accession in 1990, protests were louder and bigger, including rocket attacks ahead of some of the rituals, while 1,700 people sued amid harsh media coverage.

"Emperor Hirohito was responsible for the war, but Akihito has done a lot to soften the family's image," said Shin, a 60-year-old office worker. "But I think showing these ceremonies on television solidifies the idea of the emperor as religion."

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

46 Comments
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While it sounds like a beautiful tradition, there is little they can say to dispel the idea that there are sexual undertakings. Why the bed then?

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

And these same conservatives who believe in this nonsense chuckle when people from NK claim their first leader was delivered on a mountain top by god.

0 ( +20 / -20 )

7 pm to 3 am? That Emporer works hard!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Maybe this is one ceremony they might want to drop, or at least to abbreviate. Come one, the emperor already rejected his divinity after WW2, so why is this still needed?

1 ( +10 / -9 )

Come one, the emperor already rejected his divinity after WW2, so why is this still needed?

The emperor was forced to reject his divinity.

-4 ( +11 / -15 )

A night with a deity in a secret rituals with two maidens to prove the emperor is a god descended from Amaterasu Omikami. Even though the constitution states otherwise.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

Centred on Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess from whom conservatives believe the emperor has descended, the “Daijosai” is the most overtly religious ceremony of the emperor’s accession rituals after his father Akihito’s abdication.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

No offence to the Emperor but it will be, I believe, a better world when monarchies and religions become a thing of the past.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

Such a shameful waste of taxpayer money, and for what?

4 ( +12 / -8 )

Let the Kunaicho pay for it. Emotionally, this ceremony has importance.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

But the imperial household agency Kunaichi is also paid for by the taxpayer.

Total costs are probably ¥20-¥25 billion.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Sounds like a horror film.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Amazing! It is truly unique that Japan keeps this mystical custom. Best wishes to The Emperor and Empress!

But Koichi Shin, the head of a group of 300 people suing the government to halt the ritual, and demand damages of 10,000 yen each for "pain and suffering", says that would still not be satisfactory, as the private funds are still tax money.

"Pain and Suffering"? Sounds like there chasing money. I am real puzzled why a handful of people want to stop this unique custom. Do they really hate The Emperor? Its treason.

-5 ( +8 / -13 )

Uh oh... here we go again.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Utter nonsense. Amaterasu appears in the night and asks the offered candidate if he wants the Job and the Associated Perks. In the morning the ministers are told of the decision.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Scholars and the government say it consists of a feast, rather than, as has been persistently rumored, conjugal relations with the goddess.

Yeah, we believe you...

4 ( +7 / -3 )

A night with Ameterasu. This is a bit of Meiji leftover nonsense that our poor new emperor has been obliged to follow.

No, Amaterasu did not create the the Japanese "race." She was one of several goddess in Japanese mythology but the most powerful because she controlled the Sun, and therefore light and darkness.

Amaterasu had a fight with her brother, "the impetuous male deity" (Chamberlain) who played various tricks on her. She absconded to a cave on Takachiho Mountain and closed herself in with a boulder. With the sun goddess gone darkness fell upon the Earth. The other deities devised a plan. They danced before the cave and exposed their private parts. Amaterasu became curious and pushed the big rock aside, whereupon her friends pulled her out of the cave and sunlight returned.

Meiji Japan tried to make the Sun Goddess a supreme deity as post of where Chamberlain called "Mikado worship." This is that the Sun Goddess was never a thunderbolt throwing, sinner burning deity. She was a folk creation and therefore a comic character. Variations exist of this tale type exist all over the world.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Written after dinner. Forget the awful typos.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I think we have at least reached the point that the enthronement needs to be modernised and not something hanging over from the past.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Why is goddess in quotes? If I talk about the Christian or other god, I don't use quotes. It sounds condescending. Ex: the Christian "god" derives from Judaism. Sounds bad, right?

4 ( +6 / -2 )

As long as it's consensual :-)

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It's just a traditional ritual. Nothing to see here. Storm in a teacup. As usual, people looking for something to complain about.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

WilliB

Come one, the emperor already rejected his divinity after WW2...

What was the "divinity" you said the emperor rejected? Can you describe your understanding of Japanese emperor's "divinity"?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

JJ Jetplane

While it sounds like a beautiful tradition, there is little they can say to dispel the idea that there are sexual undertakings. Why the bed then?

It's not a bed. "Makoto-oou-fusuma"(真床追衾) is a blanket (夜具) with which to wrap a newly born baby prince. So it is most likely a symbol indicating that the emperor is a descendant of Amaterasu.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I agree with old Shin. I don’t think one yen of tax money should be used for all this emperor and king system mess. No disrespect for the persons at all. I just think it’s high time for all this mess to stop.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Under force after the loss of a war a past emperor "gave up" his divinity. However, what he held in his mind or what his descendants or the people still choose to believe is anyone's guess. Maybe he made some secret "fancy fingers" or carried a talisman in his pocket which negated what he said or signed and made it meaningless. All that mattered was that his behaviour satisfied the optics for the occupying forces.

Just as it did when Admiral Perry "opened" up Japan by setting his guns on the nation, Japan has continued to maintain a closed shop. Try getting in--even if you are born here or have lived here for decades there are always new "insider" rules you discover. Even if you have Japanese ancestry, you're shut out if it's mixed (tainted) with something else. Sure, Japan is grudgingly happy if millions of you drop your tourist dollars here and keep kitty pawing for more, but after you've spent them they're happiest when you go home.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Hope this did not make Masako angry,him spending the night with another woman

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

So Japan was founded by a goddess, yet women cannot be empresses regnant.

What a baloney.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

@WillieB

Come one, the emperor already rejected his divinity after WW2, so why is this still needed?

Japanese emperor dropped divinity only to outsiders, but not to insiders.

Abe san and his supporters still worship emperor like a living god.

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

zichi

I think we have at least reached the point that the enthronement needs to be modernised and not something hanging over from the past.

Telling and retelling of old stories creates cultural identity. Rituals are such traditions of retelling of old stories that go back to days before writing systems were invented. They are national memories. The Jews keep telling their stories of Exodus and others through a generation to generation. Americans keep telling their stories of Founding fathers. Modernization YES; but abandoning of story telling? Absolutely NO!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The emperor is the head of state but the enthronement involves 5-6 rituals some based on the Shinto religion when the constitution separates state and religion. The constitution also dismisses that the emperor is a god.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Respect tradition and leave it with no thought or explanation.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The constitution is contradictory over this as there is separation of state and religion but it also says that the Emperor has to do these ceremonies.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's a tradition that happens a couple times a century. Get over it.

With all the nonsense of people crying 'cultural appropriation' stealing and diluting traditions, people still want Japan to get rid of theirs.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

7 pm to 3 am? That Emporer works hard!

Not one, two shrine maidens! Symbolic? Well whatever it takes to satisfy Amaterasu Omikami.

Centered on Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess from whom conservatives believe the emperor has descended

It is clearly a false statement that this belief is limited to conservatives. This claim is a supposition on the part of the “journalist” and reads as an unsupported assertion rather than factual. Lazy journalism.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But Koichi Shin, the head of a group of 300 people suing the government to halt the ritual, and demand damages of 10,000 yen each for "pain and suffering", says that would still not be satisfactory, as the private funds are still tax money.

I am stunned by the assertion that private funds are “ still tax money”. This is what scares me about the modern Left. Everything is the property of the state. Are the Japanese people merely subjects of the ruling Daimyo? Can people truly be that ignorant of the lessons of history?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The Emperor has given up his entire life for this role. Let him have a little piece of ritualistic nookie nookie. Let him smash!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

superstition is alive and well and living.... well..... everywhere.....

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

zichi

The emperor is the head of state

No. Unlike the Queen of England, for example, the emperor of Japan is NOT the head of state. The head of state is not defined in Japanese constitution.

The constitution also dismisses that the emperor is a god.

The constitution DOES NOT dismiss that the emperor is a god. What the constitution says about the emperor is that it is "the symbol"(象徴) of Japan and the unity of the Japanese people.

Article 1. The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is hard to believe this nonsense actually occurs in the 21st century!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

zichi

the enthronement involves 5-6 rituals some based on the Shinto religion when the constitution separates state and religion.

Many people have challenged the use of religious motto "In God We Trust" on US coinage as unconstitutional. But the courts have struck down such criticism again and again, saying

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. (Aronow v. United States)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aronow_v._United_States

It is obvious that the rituals of Japanese enthronement is of ceremonial character and not an effort to establish a particular religion.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Empress must be jealous.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Saying that the ceremony violates the constitution is absurd. The separation of shrine and state exists to protect religious freedom of the people, yet robbing the Emperor of his religious functions violates religious freedom of tens of millions of people that worship the Emperor as a living god and descendant of Amaterasu. The obvious solution is to keep the function of the Emperor but not enforcing the citizens to honour it in any way.

But obviously that's not enough for anti-emperor Christian extremists, who will not stop until all traces of Japanese religiosity are exterminated and will use the accursed constitution as a sledgehammer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's unbelievable that somebody can write "was stripped of his divinity" with a straight face. Occupying military forcing their religious doctrine on another country, what century it is, the time of the 30 years war?

Hirohito was obviously a war criminal and absolutely nobody could have objected if Americans just executed him, but forcing him at gunpoint to recite the absurd "humanity declaration" went absolutely too far.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Kurisupisu I'm with you, but we both got voted down (only down) for pointing out the ludicrousness of it all. oh well....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good to see the Emperor is one us!

just last weekend one of my friends engaged in a similar ritual behind Kabukicho.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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