TOKYO -- More than 15,000 policemen took up positions in Tokyo last week, armed with metal shields, batons and water-cannon trucks to keep protesters from disrupting a pageant still a month in the future.
They are part of an immense security effort that will rank high among the biggest chunks of the $60 million the government is spending on the first enthronement of a Japanese emperor in 62 years.
They also are a measure of the depth of divisions that remain among Japanese after more than a year and a half of government preparations for the rituals.
On Nov. 12, enthronement day, the austere luxury of the scene at the imperial palace will form a solemn contrast with the grim gray uniforms and forbidding gray command vehicles that by then will have dominated Tokyo's streets for five weeks.
Akihito, who has been emperor since the death last year of his father, Hirohito, will sit in ancient-style imperial dress, 6 meters above the audience on an octagonal-roofed platform that for centuries has symbolized his oneness with heaven. More than 2,500 people will be witnesses, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Britain, Vice President Dan Quayle and Sweden's King Carl Gustav XVI.
Ten days later, the emperor will symbolically lie down with Amaterasu, the sun goddess, as part of the Daijosai, or great rice-offering ritual, in which ancient tradition says he is "impregnated" as part of a process
that transformed emperors of old into living gods.
Until Emperor Hirohito declared himself mortal after World War II, Japanese had revered their emperors as direct descendants of Amaterasu, part of a tradition that claims to be 2,600 years old.
These religious and mythological facets of the ancient ceremonies, and the government's plan to spend $16 million on the Daijosai, account for most of the divisions among Japanese.
The Daijosai will be conducted according to ancient practices of Shinto, the indigenous Japanese religion that long sustained emperor-worship, by the Imperial Household Agency, a branch of the government.
That mixture of ancient mysteries with government funding, the Asahi newspaper said, makes the Daijosai "an event that takes on extremely religious and mythological hues."
The Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition group, has denounced the government's plans for the ceremonies and promised to demand a debate in parliament.
Christian groups, representing a small but growing fraction of Japan's population, have declared their opposition to what they say is a violation of the postwar constitution's separation of church and state. They have scheduled a news conference to explain their views a few days before the ritual.
Left-wing extremists have sworn they will find ways to use violence to upset the plans. Right-wing extremists have sworn they will use force against the ceremonies' opponents.
The government has tinkered
cautiously with some of the rituals' traditions, apparently in an attempt to dampen some of the opposition.
Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, for example, will wear a modern formal suit rather than court dress and will stand with the new emperor on the platform. When Akihito's father was enthroned, the prime minister stood on the ground and shouted his greetings up to the platform.
One point that galls some opponents is that Mr. Kaifu will end his congratulations to the emperor with three shouts of "banzai!"
The word means merely "10,000 years," a commonplace Asian wish of a long life that is heard here every day and has been standard for leaders as egalitarian as Mao Tse-tung.
But it was also a battle cry of Japanese soldiers in World War II, and critics argue that it will be an unnecessary affront to foreign officials.
The audience will not be asked to join in the "banzai," thereby sparing representatives of former World War II enemies -- and some Japanese -- a decision that might have been difficult.