TOKYO (AP) _ Shinto priests purified Emperor Hirohito’s resting place and workers swept leaves off the procession route today on the eve of the grand state funeral that will virtually shut down this capital of 12 million people.
Friday’s ancient ceremony for Hirohito - emperor during a devastating war and a dazzling economic recovery - has been described by Japanese officials as the biggest funeral and the largest gathering of international leaders in modern times.
Making his first trip overseas as president, George Bush held a series of meetings today with several of the 163 heads of state, royalty and other government representatives scheduled to attend the daylong funeral.
Accompanied by his wife Barbara, Bush had lunch with President Francois Mitterrand of France. Later, Bush met with Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita at the Akasaka Palace.
Opponents of Japan’s imperial system staged at least three peaceful rallies today, including one with placards that caricatured and equated Hirohito and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The protests by anti-monarchy groups and the possibility of international terrorist attacks have prompted Japan’s largest security operation.
Authorities double-checked baggage at airports and restricted the use of storage lockers in Tokyo’s train stations. About 32,000 police were deployed at roadblocks throughout the capital and at other details.
Company employees observed a request to refrain from driving to work today, a self-restraint measure designed to improve security and control. One police official said traffic was down by 20 percent to 30 percent on city streets.
Final preparations today included the sweeping away of leaves along the route of the funeral procession and purification by nine Shinto priests of Hirohito’s final resting place.
The newspaper Daily Yomiuri said Hirohito would be entombed along with more than 100 personal belongings, including a microscope, a recent list of top sumo wrestlers and a sacred sword. Officials declined to provide details. Hirohito, a well-known marine biologist, was a big fan of sumo wrestling.
Friday has been declared a special national holiday, and while many Japanese are expected to pay deep respect to Hirohito, who died of cancer Jan. 7 after a 62-year reign, others planned a ski weekend.
″We are having an alternating feeling between joy and embarrassment,″ said Ritsuko Yamaguchi, an official of a hotel association in one of central Japan’s most popular ski resorts.
Yamaguchi said hotels and inns were fully booked at Shiga Heights with more than 30,000 people expected through Sunday. Heavy bookings were also reported at resorts on the northern island of Hokkaido.
The funeral is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. Friday (5:30 p.m. EST Thursday) with a ceremony of farewell at the moated Imperial Palace in Tokyo and conclude more than 13 hours later with offerings of food at the mausoleum.
The foreign dignitaries will join about 3 1/2 hours of the ceremonies.
Cloudy, wintry weather is expected with the possiblity of a rare snowfall and a maximum temperature of 45 degrees.
The body will be taken by motorcade from the palace to the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens, where world leaders sitting within two vast, floor-heated tents will witness a ceremony of ancient Shinto religious rites and state protocol. The body will then be transported to the imperial mausoleum on Tokyo’s western outskirts, where Hirohito’s father, Emperor Taisho, was buried six decades ago.
Japan has expressed pride over the unprecedented number of dignitaries who came, although the event is not without controversy.
Hirohito’s role during Japan’s military buildup in the 1930s and World War II is still a matter of debate - especially in countries that suffered the force of Japanese arms during the conflict.
About 100 opponents of the imperial system carried placards of Hirohito and Hitler in central Tokyo. Kyodo News Service said 1,500 people protested in the western suburb of Hachioji, where Hirohito will be buried.
A representative of a third group of 150 people, which included older citizens and their families, said: ″We lost our relatives (during the war) under the name of the emperor.″
Among the leaders who arrived in Tokyo today were Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, China’s Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and Prince Philip of Britain. Attendance by Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, caused protests among Brtain’s World War II veterans, one of whom began a hunger strike.
Bush, by contrast, said it was time to forget the past, noting that his bomber had been shot down by the Japanese during the war.
President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines is also attending, despite the harsh wartime occupation of her country by the Japanese - and rumors of coup plots against her government.
Emperor Akihito, Hirohito’s son and now occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne, and Empress Michiko hosted a tea for fellow bluebloods from 17 countries at the Akasaka residential palace today. The 55-year-old emperor is expected to be more accessible to the public than his father.