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TOKYO – Japan's Prince Akishino said that a highly religious ritual that is part of next year's succession ceremonies should be covered privately by the imperial family, questioning the government's decision to use public money.
Emperor Akihito's younger son spoke on the contentious issue in a news conference that was recorded for his 53rd birthday Friday. Akihito plans to abdicate next year and will be succeeded by Crown Prince Naruhito. Akishino would then become first in line of succession.
Akishino said that using public funds on the Daijosai, a first communion the new emperor performs with Shinto gods, is questionable since Japan's Constitution separates religion and state.
The ritual is expected in mid-November next year, and the government has announced that it would cover the cost, following the precedent set at the time of Akihito's succession 30 years ago. The cost for that rite alone was 2.25 billion yen ($20 million), though the government is expected to spend slightly less next year.
"It's a royal family event, and it is highly religious," Akishino told reporters. "The question is if it is appropriate to use the government funds to cover the cost of such a highly religious event." He said he thinks the ritual held for his father should not have been funded by the government, and he still holds that view.
The government has already decided to follow the previous example, he said. "Personally, I still feel awkward ... I still believe (the ritual) should be covered by the palace budget." He said he conveyed his views about the upcoming event to palace officials, but they "would not listen to me."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference Friday that there will be no change to the government decision to fund the ritual.
The prince's rare remarks contrary to the government's position topped Japanese newspaper headlines and television talk shows Friday.
Members of the Japanese royal family rarely speak out about their views, in part because the emperor was stripped of political power after Japan's defeat in the World War II, which was fought in the name of Akihito's father, Hirohito, when he was revered as god. Hirohito renounced that status and his position has become symbolic under the postwar pacifist constitution.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party and his government want the emperor to be a more authoritative figure. Abe's government and his ultra-conservative supporters are also campaigning for a constitutional revision that would restore Japan's paternalistic family values and society under the imperial family.
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