TOKYO (AP) _ A Japanese court ruled Thursday that a key ritual in Emperor Akihito's enthronement ceremonies in 1990 may have violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

But the high court dismissed a lawsuit by 1,011 plaintiffs claiming they suffered mental anguish because $89 million in public funds paid for the rite.

The plaintiffs' demand for $109 each in compensation from the government was also rejected by the court.

``We lost the judgment, but the wording came very close to making our point,'' said Hiroshi Kashima, one of the plaintiffs.

The ritual, called Daijosai, was the third in a series of ceremonies during Akihito's accession to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne following the death of his father, Hirohito.

Presiding Judge Noriyuki Yamanaka ruled the plaintiffs couldn't have suffered anguish at the time of the ceremony, because the public funding was publicized in advance.

But he said ``suspicion that (the rite) violated (constitutional) rules of separation of religion and state cannot be absolutely denied.''

Most emperors since the 7th century have undergone the ceremony, in which they offer sake wine, rice and other food to Amaterasu, the sun goddess from whom the emperors are said to be descended.

For centuries, the emperor was believed to be a living god, and many Japanese still regard the imperial family as having a special link to the Shinto gods of Japan's native religion.

But Japan's Western-style constitution, adopted after World War II was fought in Emporer Hirohito's name, establishes the separation of religion and state. It says the emperor is a human who serves only as a symbol of Japan.

The plaintiffs have two weeks to appeal to the Supreme Court.