Japanese Emperor Naruhito, dressed in pure white robes, was ushered into a dark wooden hall by torchlight on Thursday night to start his last major accession rite after becoming emperor this spring: spending the night with a goddess.
The "Daijosai" rite centers on Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess from whom conservatives believe the emperor is descended. It is the most overtly religious of the series of rituals marking Naruhito's taking over after his father Akihito's abdication.
The rite, which lasts until early Friday morning, has prompted lawsuits from critics ranging from Communists to Christians, who say it smacks of the militaristic past and violates the constitutional separation of church and state since the government pays the 2.7 billion yen ($25 million) cost.
Legend has it that the emperor has conjugal relations with the goddess, a view put forth in pre-World War Two textbooks, an era when the emperor was considered divine. Naruhito's grandfather Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought the war, was stripped of his divinity after Japan lost.
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