Will Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako Go to Copenhagen?

  June 22, 2009 at 11:12 am by

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In its presentation on Wednesday, Tokyo’s 2016 Olympic bid committee has promised to “leave the Olympic Movement with an incredible legacy to inspire future cities.” For that purpose, Tokyo is reportedly planning the most comprehensive youth program outreach ever: a national educational program has been created, in order to promote the values of the Olympic movement for schools, a measure which no candidate city has ever taken before. But this is meant to be only the first step in an effort to reconnect the youth of the world with sport: Tokyo 2016 intends to use the global appeal of Japanese youth culture such as animates, mangas, fashion and cutting-edge technology, to reach out around the world.

In addition, the bid committee aims at hosting the most eco-friendly Games in history by regenerating existing venues used for the 1964 Games into state-of-the-art, Green-designed and fully accessible sports facilities. According to the presentation, all 2016 venues are planned to be running on 100 per cent renewable energy, including the Olympic Stadium that will be built in the heart of Tokyo and will feature a solar-panelled roof. As the bid committee pointed out, in this way Tokyo 2016 intends to use the Games as a catalyst to display the best solutions for sustainable urban development and help other cities around the world tackle the major shared issues of the 21st century – from mature economies, ageing populations, and how to best care for the environment. (Article)

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There are several reasons for supposing that Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako will be very pleased by the request of Tokyo’s bid committee. Whenever they have been asked in the past for their opinion about which would be the most important challenges for Japan and all nations worldwide to face in the future, both have repeatedly named two of the very issues that the Tokyo 2016 plans address: the support of children and young people and the tackling of environment issues. For example, at one time, when answering a question about her future life work, Princess Masako talked about her wish to care “for children who find themselves in difficult circumstances”. She said: “I would like to offer my heart to such children and keep considering what help I can offer.” Her husband once told a news conference: “I continue to be deeply interested in educational and environmental issues. I also think that these issues are of paramount importance to the Japan of today. I believe that it is extremely important to provide circumstances that enable young people to realize their potential and to work toward that goal while leading fulfilling lives.” The prince who has reportedly expressed his wish “to work and sweat for his people” also always makes a point of taking action himself as far as it is in his power. In 2005, he gave a talk at the Gakushuin Women’s College about the time he spent studying overseas: “I was impressed by how attentively the students listened to my words and the well-directed questions they asked me. Although limited in number and opportunity, the young people I meet have various values and views and have a great deal of inherent potential. I hope that I can be useful in some way in order to build a society in which these young people can go through life positively and full of hope.”

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The issue of global environment is also one that both royals have very much at heart. Princess Masako once told a news conference that “as a result of the economic activities of humanity, nature has wound up being depleted and a great burden has been placed on the natural environment. It is important to remember that we have but one Earth, and it is important that humanity be able to continue to survive on our planet.” Her husband serves as Honorary President of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and tries to put the research he has done himself on water issues to good use in order “to help deepen people’s understanding of the importance of this issue”. He has stated that he feels “that issues surrounding water will become of increasing importance among environmental issues”. So, as the crown prince is intent on making his official duties “as meaningful as possible”, and as he has also stated that, in his opinion, finding a lifework could be instrumental in helping his wife recover from the stress-induced illness she is still suffering from, he will, in all probability, be very happy, along with his wife, to support a cause that addresses the very problems that he thinks should be addressed with urgency, in the interest of his own country as well as that of other nations.

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There are but two drops of bitterness or, at least, of fear, in this cup full of joy: 1st, will Princess Masako’s condition allow her to accept the invitation to Copenhagen? Although the princess has of late gradually been resuming her official duties – in November of last year she made her first public appearance on an official occasion after five years, in March, her first solo engagement in three years, and in April, her first public appearance outside of Tokyo in 15 months (for details see this post) – an official visit overseas would definitely come as an even bigger challenge for the reconvalescent ex-diplomat. Her medical team is now facing a very difficult decision. If they let her go, the princess might, upon her arrival in Copenhagen, find herself unable to attend the very event that had led her there. The shock and the disappointment of such a “failure” would probably serve to undo much of the progress she has managed to achieve during the last years. But, unfortunately, such a scenario is quite possible. According to reported information, one of the most unpleasant characteristics of Masako’s condition consists in its unpredictability. On one day, she may feel as active and full of energy as any healthy person, but the very next day, depression may strike again with full force.

On the other hand, it is not impossible that the presence or absence of the princess might influence the outcome of the vote. Following the presentations, IOC President Jacque Rogge said, “I can say very clearly the four bid cities are capable of hosting superb Games”. The princess is known to be very charming, when in good health. And although a minority of Japanese may put the blame for her condition on herself, her ordeal as well as the prince’s courageous attempts to defend his wife have worldwide raised sympathies for the couple. So, in this situation of “a very difficult choice”, as Rogge called it, Princess Masako’s presence might well make the tiny difference that in the end will decide the matter. In addition, for the princess herself this request represents an opportunity that might not come back easily: This would not be a matter of a week-long exhausting schedule but probably just one day. Besides, the IOC has said it will try to contain the activities of the heads of state in Copenhagen so as not to upstage the event itself. And finally: if all goes well, this encouraging experience might be the very thing to give the last big boost to Princess Masako’s full recovery.

But, unfortunately – and this is the second drop of bitterness, and a big one, for that matter – there is already reason to believe that in the end all these considerations will turn out to have been of no avail. According to a report of Kyodo News on Friday, a senior Imperial Household Agency official showed “a negative view over the proposal by Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara.” Japan Today wrote on Saturday: “The Imperial Household Agency has said it would be difficult for the crown prince [to make a presentation at the IOC meeting] as the campaign to host the Olympics takes on a strongly political character.” At first sight, this is a surprising comment, as the Olympic Games are usually expected to bear no political character at all. But maybe the problem consists in the person of the Tokyo Governor. Ishihara is generally described as one of Japan’s most prominent “far right” politicians. In Australia’s ABC, he was called “Japan’s Le Pen”. He has also generated controversy due to his support for Japanese nationalism, frequent visits to Yasukuni Shrine and several displays of alleged racism, historical revisionism and sexism. What reasons he had for his express request for support from the crown couple, both of whom are known to be rather liberal, will probably remain his secret.

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