World Leaders Pay Respects at Hirohito Rites : THE FUNERAL OF EMPEROR HIROHITO

Emperor Hirohito, a man once despised by much of the world as the symbol of ruthless Japanese military aggression, was honored by the international community today as kings, presidents and other representatives of 163 countries attended his elaborate state funeral.

More than 250,000 mourners braved a cold rain to line streets in the center of Tokyo this morning as the imperial hearse and its motorcade moved along the route from the Imperial Palace to Shinjuku Gyoen, a park where two funeral ceremonies--one religious and one secular--were held before about 10,000 guests, including President Bush and several hundred other foreign dignitaries.

The cortege left the palace gates to the thunder of a 21-gun salute by a military honor guard. Bands played "Kanashimi-no Kiwami," or the "Height of Sorrow," funeral music played only for the imperial family, at 10 sites along the 4-mile route. Uniformed police blanketed the area, providing tight security to guard against guerrilla attacks by radicals who had threatened to disrupt the ceremonies and warning mourners to watch their step on the slippery pavement.

Although minor, peaceful demonstrations against the emperor system were scheduled at two locations in the city, the only notable incident occurred later in the day when an explosion on an embankment scattered dirt on the highway shortly before the motorcade carrying the emperor's body passed by en route to the imperial mausoleum outside Tokyo. A police official blamed radicals for the blast, which failed to disrupt the motorcade.

Red and white rising-sun flags topped with black bunting were displayed at public buildings throughout central Tokyo, while nearly all stores and businesses were closed to observe a national holiday. The mood of the crowds viewing the cortege of 40 black sedans was subdued and reverent.

"I'm filled with deep sadness," said Masuji Shimizu, a woman wearing a kimono and hoisting a purple umbrella who watched the procession from the curb in the Akasaka district. "This emperor helped us through such a long period of time, and I came out in the rain to shed tears of gratitude."

The marathon series of ceremonies, which began at 7:30 with a private ritual in the palace, was scheduled to continue for more than 13 hours, culminating with Hirohito's entombment tonight at an imperial burial ground on the outskirts of Tokyo.

The main rites were held at a simple funeral hall built of cypress in the traditional Shinto style, the Sojoden , while guests, dressed in morning coats or other black clothing, looked on from two long, white tents in a clearing at the wooded Shinjuku Gyoen.

A solemn procession of attendants dressed in gray classical Japanese court costume, flanked by soldiers in dress uniform, carried Hirohito's 990-pound coffin in a black lacquer palanquin before the start of the religious part of the observances, called the Sojoden-no Gi. Court musicians played ethereal strains on flutes, panpipes and drums as the retinue walked slowly, holding yellow and white imperial banners, portable shrines and two sacred sakaki trees. The new emperor, Akihito, Empress Michiko and Crown Prince Naruhito followed.

Once the coffin was enshrined in the Sojoden, Torahko Nagazumi, a childhood friend of Hirohito, presided over a Shinto ceremony in which ritual offerings--food and silk brocade--were made before an altar while a band and choir played and sang "Ruika," a traditional song of mourning.

Nagazumi delivered a eulogy, followed by Emperor Akihito's onrui remarks of mourning. Members of the imperial family paid last respects before a black funeral curtain was closed.

Then, to satisfy the constitutional separation of church and state, a sacred torii gate was removed from a spot before the altar along with other religious artifacts. With the reopening of the curtain, Chief Cabinet Secretary Keizo Obuchi declared the beginning of the secular half of the services, the Taiso-no Rei .

Minute of Silence at Noon

At noon, Akihito led the nation in a minute of silence. Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and other government leaders delivered words of condolence, and guests at the ceremony, broadcast live on nationwide television, stepped forward to bow and pay tribute to the man who reigned through 62 years of war, devastation, economic reconstruction and burgeoning affluence before dying of cancer Jan. 7 at age 87.

The state-sponsored funeral, which government officials said cost an estimated $80 million, was carried out amid much controversy. Critics said the ceremonies blurred the distinction between Hirohito's role as symbolic head of state in Japan's postwar democracy and his status as the chief priest--once considered semi-divine--of the Shinto religion.

Moreover, these critics contended, the extravaganza of the funeral and the staggering security measures taken in connection with it were partly intended to inspire awe in the minds of Japanese, elevating the symbol of the imperial office to a loftiness reminiscent of Japan's totalitarian past, when Shinto was a state religion used by militarists to mobilize the citizenry.

Intimidation by right-wing extremists, meanwhile, has stifled free speech for those who have dared to part from a sanctimonious mood that has prevailed since Hirohito fell gravely ill last fall. On Wednesday, a menacing letter and a bullet was delivered to the home of Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima, who drew fire for remarking in December that Hirohito had some responsibility for the war. Motoshima was among Japanese dignitaries attending the funeral today.

Much public bickering took place in Parliament and in the press over the meaning of the consecutive religious and secular ceremonies, with convoluted twists of logic that were largely lost on many ordinary people.

Watched Last Such Rites

"It's nonsense, all the noise they've been making about the details of the funeral ceremony," said Seijiro Furukawa, 87, a retired judge who remembers watching the funeral processions of Hirohito's father, Emperor Taisho, in 1927, and grandfather, the Meiji emperor, in 1912.

"I don't know why they're making such a fuss over the removal of a single torii ," said Furukawa, a stooped man with a beret and cane who said he planned to stay home today to watch the funeral on television. "It's a new era now, and the imperial house has nothing to do with our democracy."

To the world looking on as the ceremonies took place--today in Japan but Thursday night in the United States--the funeral signified a coming of age for Japan. All three major U.S. television networks broadcast their nightly newscasts from Tokyo, and enterprising reporters examined the Japanese economic miracle in all its aspects.

It was a diplomatic windfall for Takeshita, whose government is teetering, possibly at the edge of collapse, because of a stock-trading and influence-peddling scandal that has sullied the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Before foreign guests leave Japan over the weekend, Takeshita planned to meet with as many as 40 visiting heads of state or government in a highly publicized show of "funeral diplomacy."

Weighing Aid to Brazil

On Thursday, for example, Takeshita met Brazilian President Jose Sarney and disclosed afterward that Japan is considering a new $1.5-billion aid package for the debt-strapped country, Foreign Ministry officials said.

The star-studded turnout largely ignored sporadic protests abroad that world leaders should not bestow legitimacy upon the Japanese emperor whom some critics described as a "war criminal." And it underscored Japan's position as a distributor of economic assistance and its growing stature as a global power.

Of the 166 nations invited to send representatives, all but three accepted. This made the rites for Hirohito--known posthumously as Emperor Showa--the largest state funeral ever, surpassing the 1980 state funeral of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, attended by representatives of 119 countries.

No guest was more meaningful for the Japanese than Bush, who as a Navy pilot during World War II, was shot down by the Japanese and rescued by an American submarine.

Bush said in Washington on Jan. 13, when he announced his decision to attend, that in 1944 he would have found it "a little hard to believe" that he would one day attend Hirohito's funeral. Still, he said, "I know I'm doing the right thing, to represent the United States of America at this funeral."

Bush's message, underscored in an Asia-Pacific policy speech in a stopover Wednesday in Anchorage, Alaska, was that the friendship and the security alliance that bind the United States and Japan have outgrown the animosity of the past, despite recent strains over trade conflicts. The message has been well received by the Japanese.

Bush made a "sincere and touching expression of condolence" when he met with Takeshita for 45 minutes Thursday, according to Yukio Okamoto, director of the Foreign Ministry's 1st North America Division.

"We are deeply touched by President Bush's basic position that what is important for him is the present and the future of the bilateral relationship, and not the past," Okamoto told foreign reporters.

Yet Hirohito's death brought to the surface a dark history that continues to haunt the Japanese, a history from which many conservative leaders here are vainly attempting to break free.

A long-simmering controversy over the ruling party's policy of playing down Japan's responsibility as a wartime aggressor came to a head just days before the funeral, after Takeshita appeared before a parliamentary budget committee Feb. 18 and gave an extremely evasive answer to a question by a Communist lawmaker on whether Nazi Germany had been a wartime aggressor.

Takeshita's response was that the war was "a truly sad event" but that "it is the historian's task in later ages to form a conclusion whether or not it was a war of aggression."

Tokyo: Presidents, Princes and Kings

The government of Japan invited 166 countries with which it has diplomatic relations to send representatives to today's funeral of Emperor Hirohito. All but three--or 163--have representatives in attendance, as do 27 international organizations. Among the kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers and other foreign dignitaries are:

King Hussein, Jordan.

King Juan Carlos I, Spain.

King Carl XVI Gustaf, Sweden.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, Tonga

Prince Philip, Britain.

Prince Albert, Monaco.

President Bush, United States.

President Francois Mitterrand, France.

President Chaim Herzog, Israel.

President Corazon Aquino, the Philippines.

President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt.

President Jose Sarney, Brazil.

President Jose Azcona Hoyo, Honduras.

President Suharto, Indonesia.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

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