Shinto unity threatened by protocol blip

Japan's ancient Shinto religion is embroiled in a raging controversy based on a simple misuse of a title in an invitation, The Times of London reports.

The spat involves the Associations of Shinto Shrines, the closest thing the 3,000-year-old native religion has to an organized establishment and the keepers of Tokyo's Meiji Shrine.

It began when the leaders of Meiji sent out invitations to a memorial service for a 19th century empress, and mistakenly referred to Emperor Akihito and his wife as "Their Imperial Highnesses" instead of "Their Imperial Majesties."

Protocol experts at the association were furious and demanded staff changes at the Shrine.

The emperor apparently had no complaint about the mistake but, according to Shinto sources, the Rev. Katsutoshi Toyama, the chief priest of Meiji Shrine, and Rev. Izu Kudo, the head of the association, became enraged with one another. Then last month, the shrine took the ultimate sanction and left the association.

Now, the association is frantically lobbying the shrine, which pays annual dues of $135,000, to reverse its decision. There are 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan, and Meiji is one of the biggest and richest.