Prince and Princess Akishino Returning Home from their European Tour
On Saturday, Prince and Princess Akishino arrived back home from their tour to the Danube countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. In Romania, the fourth and last leg of their journey, the couple paid a courtesy visit to President Basescu on Wednesday and met with Chairman of the Romanian Senate Mircea Geoana and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Roberta Anastase.
On the programme of the four-day visit were also a series of cultural and social events, such as visits to Cotroceni National Museum, the building of the Ministry of Culture, Religious Affairs and National Heritage, the Sinaia Monastery and Peles Castle. The royal couple also planted cherry trees at the Village Museum and met professors and students of the Japanese Section of the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department of the Bucharest University. (Article)
Unlike European royals, who have their own interests and pursuits, Japan’s royals have no say over their calendars. “They don’t get to choose where they go or what they do,” says Shinji Yamashita, a former member of the Imperial Household Agency (IHA). “They could never be allowed to favor one charity over another.” It is deemed important that the imperial family do not have opinions: “They cannot say they like apples, because if they did, what would the orange growers say?” Accordingly, Japanese royals are, as taxi driver Koji Ono expresses it, “just decoration, like whipped cream on a cake.”
When Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito married in 1993 charismatic Masako Owada, a thoroughly modern woman, educated at Harvard, with a promising diplomatic career ahead of her, there were hopes that this situation was about to change. Many Japanese and international watchers expected that Naruhito and his modern bride would follow in the steps of liberal-minded Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko (the first commoner ever to marry into the imperial family) and that the crown couple would strive to continue the process of modernization begun by the current emperor and empress. Career woman Masako seemed to symbolize the expected change: If people were dutifully respectful of Emperor Akihito, and mildly curious about Naruhito, they were downright crazy about Masako.
But, alas, Masako’s fans were going to be heavily disappointed. Even before 2003 – when the crown princess suffered a bout of shingles and sank into a depression – she had already all but retreated into a quiet, sheltered life, appearing sporadically at garden parties and ribbon-cutting ceremonies by her husband’s side. She had not taken up any special causes nor spoken out on any issue. Some called her “the silent princess”. It seemed that the rigid forms of ancient court tradition had been only too effective in wiping out her personality.
But then, in a way completely unexpected by everybody, her illness became an instrument to remove the chrysanthemum curtain and allow the public to gain an unprecedented insight. The crown prince spoke out against the pressure exerted on his wife in May 2004. By firmly advocating Princess Masako’s right to use her talents and professional experience in performing her duties as crown princess, he made it clear that, according to him, the imperial family members, instead of serving as mere puppets without opinion on official occasions, should actively strive to have a positive impact on society. The prince has repeated and underlined this view several times since. Last February, he told a press conference that he considered finding a lifework a source of great encouragement in performing official duties. He added that he, personally, wished to make water issues his special mission. (The prince has assumed the post of Honorary President of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, being the first member of the imperial family to assume a post of honorary president of a United Nations’ body. He has also held keynote addresses at several World Water Forums during the last years.) Concerning his wife’s recovery, the prince underlined the importance of her finding her mission in life. As a possible part of the princess’s future lifework he mentioned activities to help children in unfortunate circumstances and measures to create a society in which children can live in safety.
It became soon clear to the curious public that not all members of the imperial family shared the crown prince’s views. In a press conference in November 2004, his brother Prince Akishino called the remarks, by which the crown prince had criticized the treatment of his wife, “regrettable”. He also told the journalists that, for him, personal interests and official functions were two things to be kept completely separate and that, in his view, official duties were “rather passive in nature”.
Much was written in the following about the tension between the emperor’s two sons. Prince Akishino is, as the younger brother, naturally below the crown prince in the imperial pecking order. He had always been living rather in his brother’s shadow and had already before shown signs of brotherly rivalry, namely when his brother was very slow in finding himself a wife. Prince Akishino, who breached tradition by marrying before his elder brother, mocked Naruhito for being “too short-legged and too Mongolian-looking” for a girl to like him. Now, many years later, Prince Akishino’s remarks about the “passive nature” of official duties were widely interpreted as an open attack against the heir to the throne. Spectators commented that the boldness of his action could only be explained by the assumption that he had the backing of his father, Emperor Akihito. The media were speculating about a rift in the imperial family, and the issue of “official duties” became a frequently asked question at news conferences.
But, as the crown prince once expressed it: “As far as wishing for the happiness of the people and considering what can be done for the people and striving to implement that, the views of His Majesty, Prince Akishino and my views are all the same.” A public quarrel among the family members is hardly beneficial for the welfare of the monarchy or the nation, and, of course, they are all aware of that. Accordingly, on the news conference on occasion of the imperial couple’s golden wedding anniversary in April, the emperor generously explained that, although he thought it important that the next generation bear in mind to constantly seek “to find what the ideal role of the Emperor should be”, just as he himself had never stopped doing, he still intended “to leave it to the next generation to decide exactly what they will do about each specific activity”.
So, it is to be supposed that Prince Naruhito has his father’s blessing to take an even more liberal line than the current emperor when he accedes to the throne. At press conferences, the crown prince mentions the “need to review official duties” and “to find an appropriate image for the royal family in the 21st century,” as well as his desire to “come into contact with the people of Japan.” It is possible and even probable that an Emperor Naruhito will try to appeal straight to the Japanese people and will seek a close contact with them, and that he will insist on stepping in front of the chrysanthemum curtain that the ultranationalist defenders of Japan’s “mystery of majesty” are so desperately trying to keep drawn.
Sure, due to the current succession law, Prince Akishino will follow after him on the throne. And then it will finally be the younger brother’s turn to interpret the emperor’s role, according to his own ideas. But, in the supposedly short time of his reign, it is hardly to be expected that he should be able to undo all the changes effected by his elder brother and to turn back the wheel of time.
Read more about the goodwill tour of Prince and Princess Akishino in this TRF thread.Filed under Japan
Tagged Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, Education, Official Visit, President Băsescu of Romania, Prince Akishino of Japan, Princess Kiko of Japan, Romania, Succession.