Prince Naruhito's enthronement: Japanese groups oppose use of state funds

A coalition of religious groups and citizens is demanding that the Japanese government must not use taxpayers' money to cover the costs of religious rites for next year's enthronement of the new emperor.

Crown Prince Naruhito, the 58-year-old first son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, is due to assume the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 next year, one day after his father abdicates.

Around 120 people, including Buddhist monks and members of Christian groups, have filed a lawsuit, claiming that the national government paying for "religious ceremonies" that make up a part of the enthronement ceremonies is a violation of the constitutional principle that the state and religion should remain separate.

The emperor's abdication was already controversial as it will be the first time that an emperor has stepped down from the throne since 1817. The question of who pays for the Shinto Daijosai ceremony that makes up part of his son's enthronement has added fuel to the fire.

The Imperial Household Agency has not revealed the costs for the lavish ceremony, but the enthronement of the present emperor in 1990 cost an estimated $96 million (€84.67 million).

Read more: Japan passes bill allowing Emperor Akihito to abdicate

No broad dissent

"I think that most people accept that there is an element of the Shinto religion in the enthronement rituals, but they do not seem to mind that their tax money is being used in this way," Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, told DW.

"It is a long-running tradition for the imperial family and this emperor is very popular with ordinary people," he said. "He has the support of the vast majority of people because of the crises that have affected Japan in recent years, most importantly the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeast Japan in 2011."

"I don't believe that many people support these suits," he said, pointing out that similar legal challenges were filed in the run-up to the 1990 enthronement, although the courts dismissed every one of them.

Japan's royal family

In response to the legal challenge, the national government has reiterated that it intends to go ahead with its plan to use state funds for the rites.

Yet there are suggestions that the imperial family itself believes that it is inappropriate for taxpayers' money to be used for the ceremonies.

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Prince speaks out

Prince Akishino used the occasion of his 53rd birthday earlier this month to suggest that the state should not be burdened with the cost of rites for his older brother's accession to the throne.

In a press conference ahead of his birthday, the prince stated, "I wonder whether it is appropriate to cover the costs of this highly religious event with state funds."

Instead, he suggested the cost could directly come from the imperial family's funds.

Under the terms of the Japanese constitution, which went into effect in May 1947, the government is not permitted to engage in religious activities, while tradition also dictates that members of the imperial family take no part in political affairs, which includes commenting on domestic or international political matters.

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Subtle messaging

And while the imperial family is not meant to comment on affairs of state, the present emperor has in the past found subtle ways to do precisely that. Mieko Nakabayashi, a professor in the school of social sciences at Tokyo's Waseda University, believes the prince's comments may be another example of just that.

"This was a well thought-out statement, not something that was said on the spur of the moment, so I believe it was the result of the knowledge of the Imperial Household Agency and the emperor," she told DW.

"He has to be seen to be expressing his own personal views and not attempting to influence the government or change their way of thinking, but if members of the public then bring a lawsuit then the imperial family can easily distance themselves from that," she added.

"The nation has a huge financial deficit at present, and the emperor has in the past expressed concern about the well-being of his subjects, so it is very possible that this is another indication of his thoughts on the cost of the ceremonies and how it might otherwise be spent."

"Is that the message? Nobody outside the palace knows for sure," Nakabayashi said. "But it is interesting that we are having this discussion in Japanese society."

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

A new prince in the succession to the throne

Born on November 14, 1948, Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor is best known to the world as Prince Charles. The Prince of Wales' mother, Elizabeth, comes from the House of Windsor. His father, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, was naturalized the year before his son's birth under the name of Mountbatten.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The heir apparent

In 1952, his mother became Queen Elizabeth II, making little Charles the heir apparent to the throne. From then on, the then-4-year-old could expect to become king one day. Despite the royal title, he was the first heir apparent to go to a normal elementary school in London instead of having a private tutor.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

Sailing with his father

Prince Charles didn't have an easy time at school. His classmates often teased him because of his big ears. His academic achievements weren't exceptional; he even had to repeat a year. Prince Philip insisted that his son should be sent to a "school with discipline and order," so Charles then attended two of his father's former boarding schools, including Gordonstoun in Scotland.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

A member of the family

While Prince Charles said in later interviews that the "toughness" of the elite private school was much exaggerated, many biographical accounts of his years there depict those years as extremely difficult for the sensitive prince. He was afterwards admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied archaeology.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The kilt wearer

A classic among the royal family's pictures: Philip and Charles wear a Scottish kilt and a sporran, the traditional purse that goes with it, while Lord Snowdon (r.), Princess Margaret's husband, opts for a common suit. As a non-noble, he was freed from the constraints of court etiquette. Standing to the left of Prince Charles is his sister, Princess Anne.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The fairy-tale wedding

His service in the Royal Navy and the British Air Force (1971-76) turned Charles into a self-confident, attractive prince in uniform. His various love affairs made him known as a "playboy prince" in the British press. The young Lady Diana Spencer also fell for his charm. They married on July 29, 1981 — a dream wedding.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The heartbreaker

Prince Charles didn't take marital fidelity very seriously. Getting married to the 19-year-old Diana was a pragmatic decision to upkeep the royal dynasty, but his heart belonged to another woman. He pursued his love affair with the married Camilla Parker-Bowles for years, which led Diana to later complain: "There were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded."

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

On a state visit to the US

They nevertheless spent years appearing together as a harmonious couple, such as here in 1985 on a state visit to the US. President Ronald Reagan (left) and Charles smile as Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana chat. Lady Di sported a very fashionable hairstyle, while Charles' look was rather classic.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The 'perfect family'

Charles and Diana managed to produce such "happy family" pictures despite their rocky marriage. But rumors of infidelity were popping up in the tabloid press. In 1992, the couple officially announced their breakup.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The single dad

Following Diana's accidental death in August 1997, Prince Charles became overnight the only parent left for his two sons William (left) and Harry. He patiently accompanied them through this painful loss.

Prinz Charles und Prinz William sitzen auf einer Holzbank in Skimontur (AP)

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The skier

While his responsibilities as a royal representative keep him busy, Prince Charles still finds time for a few hobbies. In addition to fox hunting, which brought him a lot of negative press, he regularly goes skiing. He's portrayed here in 2004 with his son William in Klosters, Switzerland. Polo was another one of his favorite sports, but he had to give up the horseback mounted game due to old age.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

A fan of culture

The heir to the throne likes to surround himself with attractive women, and photographers are more than willing to immortalize him mingling with the stars. Here, in a photo from the year 2000, Charles is with (from left to right) singers Kylie Minogue and Shirley Bassey and harpist Catrin Finch at the Royal Variety Performance in the Dominion Theater in London.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The sword dancer

Prince Charles' representational duties means he also undertakes numerous trips abroad. His extremely dry sense of humor certainly helps him manage foreign affairs. His 2014 visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was however a private trip. In the capital, Riyadh, he took part in a folkloric dance known as "Arda," which involves dancing with a sword while wearing traditional Saudi dress.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The committed prince

Discreetly political — his title does not allow him any partiality — the "green" prince has been a longtime promoter of traditional craftsmanship in the UK and he campaigns for new perspectives on urban planning and ecological settlements. With the Prince's Trust, Charles also supports social projects to help bring unemployed youth back to work.

A king in waiting: Prince Charles at 70

The father-in-law

The world got to see the compassionate side of the Prince of Wales in May 2018, as Charles accompanied his daughter-in-law, the American Meghan Markle, to the altar in St. George's Chapel, for her wedding to Prince Harry. At the age of 70, Charles is the longest king-in-waiting, and if ever he does take on the royal title, he will be the oldest new monarch in British history.