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Emperor To Commune With Gods in Mystical Shinto Rite With Japan-Enthronement

November 8, 1990

TOKYO (AP) _ Clad in white robes reserved for the holiest ceremonies, Emperor Akihito will complete his accession to the throne by communing with the Shinto gods in a room bathed in flickering torchlight.

Palace officials say the communion, part of an enthronement ritual more than 1,200 years old, has become an integral part of imperial succession and is an important aspect of Japanese culture.

It also has given rise to heated constitutional debate and allegations that the government seeks to revive the ″living god″ status of former monarchs.

Members of the leading opposition party, the Socialists, plan to boycott the rite. The head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has questioned its constitutionality and the National Christian Council of Japan has collected nearly 80,000 signatures on a petition against it.

The ceremony, to begin just after dark Nov. 22 and end before dawn, is known as the Daijosai, or Great Food Offering Ritual.

About 900 Japanese dignitaries will gather for the ceremony at a special complex of buildings recently completed on the grounds of the imperial palace in central Tokyo. No foreigners are invited.

Among the guests will be Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, speakers of both houses of Parliament, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the cream of Japanese society.

Ancient court music will be played as the guests are seated in two large tents. A procession of chamberlains and palace officials, clad in traditional kimonos, will escort the emperor to one of two ceremonial halls.

In a lantern-lit inner chamber, well away from the sight of the guests, Akihito will be assisted by two female attendants as he begins the rite.

Sitting on a bamboo floor covered with rush matting, he will pray and offer newly harvested and polished rice to the sun goddess, from whom the imperial line is said to have descended.

He then will join all the gods of heaven and earth in a communion of rice, rice wine and produce from all over Japan, including squid, abalone and chestnuts.

Just after midnight, the ceremony will be repeated in the other hall.

Relatively few details of the mystical ceremony were known to the public until earlier this century.

Because each of the inner chambers contains a stylized bed, scholars have argued that, at one time, the rite may have involved the emperor symbolically having intercourse with the sun goddess, thus becoming one with the divine.

Palace officials say the bed represents the place where the gods rest until summoned for the communion.

Iwao Miyao, deputy head of the Imperial Household Agency, which supervises palace affairs, told reporters recently that prayers offered by previous emperors indicate the rite is not intended to bestow divine status on the monarch.

Miyao quoted a prayer by Emperor Gotsuchimikado in 1466 that was an appeal to the sun goddess for peace, abundant crops and blessings on ″all the people, both high and low.″

He said that prayer and two others had, ″for some reason or other,″ become known outside the palace. Miyao refused to divulge what Akihito will say because ″such matters are intended exclusively for the deities.″

Akihito is to be the first monarch enthroned under Japan’s postwar constitution, written while Japan was administered by Allied occupation forces after World War II.

Although the charter redefined the role of the emperor from that of ″sacred″ sovereign to a largely symbolic one, Akihito’s Daijosai will be essentially the same as those of his father, grandfather and great- grandfather.

Critics consider this important, since the content of those rites was strongly influenced by those who wanted to restore imperial rule and build a national cult of emperor worship.

The cult was used later to rally the nation to war.

Opponents also point out that the late Hirohito, the new emperor’s father, renounced his divinity in 1946. They claim Akihito’s Daijosai amounts to a retraction of that historic decision.

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