Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Japanese Emperor Naruhito performed a traditional Shinto Thanksgiving ceremony Thursday as an imperial succession rite, which has drawn some criticism over the issue of separating church and state.
The 59-year-old Naruhito wore a white robe at Yuki Hall, one of the gigantic Daijokyu Halls built on the Imperial Palace Grounds, for the ceremony. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other officials were among 675 people invited to the centuries-old event.
As part of the Shinto ritual, the emperor sits in the direction of the Grand Shrines of Ise in Mie Prefecture, which is believed to enshrine the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu, a mythical ancestress of the imperial family. It's known as a Thanksgiving ceremony, as it's the first occasion to offer newly harvested rice to deities of heaven and earth while the emperor gives prayers for peace and prosperity.
The ceremony is a a succession ritual that dates back to at least the 7th century. A 220-year hiatus interrupted the tradition when a war started in 1467. It was ultimately revived in 1687.
Some critics, however, say the tradition violates the constitutional principle of separating religion and state, and that public funds shouldn't be used to pay for the event. The previous ceremony, performed former Emperor Akihito in 1990, was the first under Japan's postwar constitution.
Officials said the Imperial Household Agency would pay for Thursday's ceremony and leftover food for the event would be eaten rather than buried, as it was formerly done.
The ceremony is Naruhito's last major succession ritual, after a parade in Tokyo Sunday.
Naruhito assumed the throne on May 1 to start the "Reiwa" ear, which means "beautiful harmony." He succeeded his 85-year-old father, Emperor Akihito, and vowed to follow the Japanese Constitution.
The total construction-related cost for the event is $22.5 million (2.44 billion yen). The ceremonial halls will be taken down after a public viewing period ends Dec. 8.