Japan’s Emperor Akihito takes exception to ‘just performing imperial rituals’

‘He clearly feels that all the hard work he has done since he assumed the throne in 1989 has been overlooked’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 8:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2017, 11:15pm

His words may have been indirect and diplomatic, but there is little disguising the anger of Emperor Akihito of Japan in response to comments by at least one member of a panel set up by the government to consider his abdication.

A leak from the Imperial Household Agency to the Mainichi newspaper has revealed that at least one conservative member of the panel attending a meeting in November said “the emperor should just perform imperial rituals.”

The member - who has not been identified - added: “the imperial family’s meaning lies in its continued existence and its performance of imperial rituals. To ask any more of a role from an emperor is inappropriate.”

Conservative panellists oppose abdication on the grounds that it would reduce the standing of the imperial system and were arguing that there would be no need for the emperor to step down if he would limit his public appearances and dedicate himself to imperial rites.

The sources close to the emperor - who stunned the nation in August last year when he used a television broadcast to announce that he wished to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne - said he had been “shocked” and deeply displeased by the comments.

The source said “His Majesty was disconsolate,” the Mainichi reported.

“Does the government panel not know the activities in which the emperor has been involved?”

Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, said the message may have been delivered by the Imperial Household Agency, but it could only have come from the emperor himself, which makes it “quite exceptional”, he added.

“It is clear these comments are from the emperor himself and that he has been moved to some anger,” Watanabe said.

“And for the Emperor to express himself so freely and in such a direct way is quite exceptional.

“He clearly feels that all the hard work he has done since he assumed the throne in 1989 has been overlooked and it is natural that he is angry,” he said.

“He is angry at their ignorance.”

The emperor is widely revered by the Japanese public and won even greater praise from his subjects when he visited people of northeast Japan who had lost their homes in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Now 84, the emperor underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and was hospitalised again in late 2008 with chest pains, an irregular pulse, high blood pressure and internal bleeding.

His doctor at the time blamed the emperor’s ill-health on stress in part brought on by questions over the future of Japan’s imperial family.

Earlier this month, the government finally approved a bill that will permit the emperor to abdicate. That is expected to take place in December 2018 and the throne will be taken over by Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, who will become the 126th emperor of Japan.