Japanese bishops make stand on imperial ceremonies

Catholic prelates want separation of state events and imperial family's private religious ones during emperor change
Japanese bishops make stand on imperial ceremonies

Bishops pray at the beginning of CBCJ annual plenary session held Feb. 19-22 in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan)

ucanews.com reporter, Tokyo
Japan
March 2, 2018
Japan's bishops have written to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanding strict observance of the constitutional separation of state-sponsored ceremonies and the imperial family's private religious ones when the change of emperors takes place in 2019.

On the final day of their Feb. 19-22 annual plenary session in Tokyo, the 16 bishops adopted a petition titled "Request on separation of state and religion upon the emperors' abdication and installation." 

"In the ceremonies for the emperors' abdication and accession, [we hope the government] will strictly observe the principle of separation of state and religion prescribed by the Constitution of Japan and clarify the distinction between national acts and the imperial family's private ritual events," the bishops said.

Emperor Akihito will abdicate on April 30, 2019, and Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed to the throne the next day on May 1.

During Akihito's enthronement ceremonies in 1990, the government not only paid for the imperial family's private religious ceremony, Daijosai, but the heads of the three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — attended the ceremony. The government also introduced traditional religious rituals of the imperial family into the main state ceremony, the "Ceremony of Enthronement."

The bishops criticized these previous confusions, saying they "do not correspond to the principle of separation of state and religion provided by the Constitution of Japan." The prelates said it was "very regrettable" that the government will reportedly repeat this for the coming ceremonies.

The bishops said the separation of state and religion principle was "learned from reflection on history that Japan had fought wars under the emperor-centered national Shinto religion, and had violated the human rights and peace of many people in the world, especially Asian people."

"The Japanese government has a responsibility to never forget that unfortunate history and to not follow the same pattern," the bishops added.

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