More than 200 Japanese citizens, including members of Christian groups and Buddhist monks, sued the government Monday over its plan to use taxpayer money for ceremonies next year to mark the new emperor's enthronement.
About 240 people have joined a lawsuit filed at Tokyo District Court, arguing that funding what they say are religious ceremonies from the national budget violates the constitutional separation of religion and state.
It is believed to be the first suit of its kind filed over Crown Prince Naruhito's ascent to the Chrysanthemum throne, set for May 1, the day after his father Emperor Akihito abdicates.
The budget for next year's ceremonies has not been made public but the government has said it will follow precedent.
Koichi Shin, one of the plaintiffs, said the ceremonies in 1990 — after Akihito ascended the throne — cost around 12.3 billion yen at the time ($108 million at the current exchange rate).
The suit comes after Prince Akishino, the emperor's younger son, issued rare public criticism of the government over plans to spend state funds on religious rites related to Naruhito's enthronement.
Speaking at a press conference late last month, Akishino said the Daijosai ritual that will take place in November next year "has a highly religious nature."
"I wonder if it is appropriate to finance this highly religious thing with state funds," he said.
The plaintiffs are seeking to suspend the spending of state funds for rituals including the Daijosai — a prayer for a bountiful harvest and for peace — Shin told AFP.
"These are religious ceremonies based on imperial Shintoism," a highly ritualistic form of an ancient Japanese religion, Shin said.
A lawyer representing the plaintiffs, who requested not to be identified, said although the main logic in the lawsuit is separation of religion and state, "this is also an opportunity to question the relationship between the emperor and the Japanese people."
The plaintiffs are also seeking damages of 10,000 yen each for emotional distress over the issue, he said.
Similar suits were filed against the government when Akihito was enthroned upon the death of his father Emperor Hirohito in 1989.
All the cases at that time were thrown out, but one upper court said it cannot deny the suspicion that some ceremonies violate the principle of separation of religion and state.
"At the last enthronement, some 1,700 plaintiffs filed lawsuits, and there was a certain public support," Shin said.
After the May enthronement, the government also plans to hold two major ceremonies, one in October and the other in November, following the example of 30 years ago.
© 2018 AFP