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Shinto priests offer rice and sake during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Friday. The ceremony was held in the compound of the palace to pray for the safe and successful construction of a pair of shrines for Emperor Naruhito’s key succession rituals later this year. Kyodo News via AP

TOKYO — Japan held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday at the imperial palace, where Shinto priests prayed for safe and successful construction of a pair of shrines for Emperor Naruhito’s key succession rituals later this year.

Naruhito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1 after his father retired. A main ascension ceremony is planned in October, when thousands of guests will be invited, followed by a religious harvest rite in November.

Five Shinto priests offered sake, rice and neatly folded silk fabric and prayed as traditional “gagaku” music played. Senior officials from the Imperial Household Agency and construction company Shimizu Corp. watched.

The planned 957 million yen ($8.8 million) shrines, which are to be demolished later, will be the site of Naruhito’s first Daijosai, or the Great Thanksgiving, ritual on Nov. 14-15. Daijosai is the first harvest ritual that a new emperor performs. The emperor offers newly cropped rice and other items for the goods, thanking good harvests and peace for the nation.

Some experts say the ritual violates the separation of state and religion. The annual harvest rituals will be private from the emperor’s second year, but the government is funding his first as part of the succession ceremonies.


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