Christian Group Petitions Against Coronation, Plans Hunger Strike
TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s largest Christian organization has gathered nearly 80,000 signatures on a petition opposing state funding of a religious enthronement rite for Emperor Akihito, officials said today.
The National Christian Council of Japan, which began gathering the signatures in December 1989, is one of a growing number of groups opposing the rite, called the Daijosai, or Great Food Offering Ritual.
The council, an umbrella group encompassing nearly all mainstream Protestant denominations, also is planning a hunger strike to protest the funding of the ceremony.
In the Daijosai, to be held 10 days after Akihito is formally crowned Nov. 12, the emperor is to have his first communion with the gods of Shinto, which until 1945 was Japan’s state religion.
Although the rite has roots going back more than a millennium, opponents say it conflicts with the postwar constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion and its ban on government involvement in church activities.
″Government involvement in a religious ceremony like this is a violation of the separation of church and state,″ said the petition. ″We oppose government involvement in the Daijosai, and we oppose government funding.″
Council official Natsuko Yoshida said the petition is to be presented to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and other government officials in mid-November, after the final count has been made.
She said officials had hoped to present the petition earlier, but the prime minister’s office will not set a firm date, saying they are too busy at present because parliament is in session.
″We had originally only hoped to get about 50,000 signatures,″ Yoshida said. ″And though we were able to get more than that we are not really satisfied with just the numbers.″
She said, however, that the signature drive was ″revolutionary″ because it had the support of nearly all Christian groups in the country.
″The Catholics and some other groups had been slow to protest in the past,″ Yoshida said. ″But we all came together for this, and I think it will create a foundation for conducting future protests.″
Council officials also said that unless the government reverses its funding policy, they are planning to begin the hunger strike on Nov. 19 and stop it after the Daijosai ends on Nov. 23. Roughly 1,000 people are expected to join in the strike, they said.
Over the past month, many groups from a wide section of society have voiced concern about the government’s handling of the rite.
More than 1,500 people have filed suit in a district court in western Japan claiming the state funding is unconstitutional.
That case opened Tuesday in Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, with each plaintiff demanding a token amount of money in damages and a withdrawal of government funding if providing such is found in violation of the constitution.
Many of the people who brought the suit to court are Christians, but the group also includes Buddhists, historians and teachers.
Last week, the head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said government funding could ″only be seen as a violation of the principle of church-state separation.″
Government officials say the funding is justified because it is intended only to preserve an ancient imperial tradition, not to promote religion.