In the hours before dawn on Friday and before the first sun rises, Japan's Emperor Naruhito walked out of a religious compound after performing symbolic rituals, spending the night with the "sun goddess" whom conservatives believe his family descended from, and the coronation ceremony.

According to their beliefs, the ritual "Daigosai" centered on the "goddess Amaterasu Omikami," began shortly after sunset Thursday, carrying the clearest religious signs surrounding the rituals of the coronation of Naruhito, after his father Akihito abdicated in April.

Amid the flaming lights and the monks' hymns, Emperor Naruhito emerged from behind the curtains of the white holy shrine at around 3 am, bringing a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and about 400 prominent figures in an open booth.

"This ritual is a celebration of the goddess of the sun and the emperor," said John Breen, a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. "The emperor's participation in this celebration marks his transition."

Maintaining the rite, costing the government 2.7 billion yen ($ 25 million), has prompted critics from different walks of life, such as communists and Christians, to file lawsuits, saying it carries a tinge of militarism and violates the constitution, which stipulates the separation of religion and state.

Empress Masako wearing a traditional 12-layer white dress (Reuters)

Beliefs and rites
Some say the emperor has a "goddess" marriage, a belief that dates back to before the Second World War when the emperor was considered a sacred figure, but Hirohito, the grandfather of Naruhito, who entered Japan under his banner, was stripped of sacredness after defeat.

The ritual is a feast in which the emperor offers foods such as rice, corn, seafood and kaka fruit to the "sun goddess," the government and researchers say, in the last rite to formalize his new status as emperor.

Preparations for the ceremony began months ago with the establishment of a special religious complex within the imperial court, and then harvesting rice from two selected fields by heating the shell of a turtle and reading the pattern of cracks on it.

Immediately after Morocco, the emperor appeared in live television footage, led by a torchbearer to dark wooden corridors, followed by Empress Masako in a traditional white 12-layer garment.

After the emperor disappeared behind the white curtains in the dimly lit hall, kneeling around him, with straw cushions wrapped in white cloth, offered sacrifices to the "goddess" on 32 plates of oak leaves, accompanied by two temple girls; then he bowed down and prayed for peace in Japan.