Guests at an Imperial Palace garden party last week were shocked when novice Japanese lawmaker Taro Yamamoto handed Emperor Akihito a letter about Fukushima. The gesture, which happened while the emperor and his wife were greeting a line of guests, is considered both impolite and inappropriate. While there is no specific law against what the outspoken actor-turned-lawmaker did, it has attracted criticism from both ends of the ideological spectrum and left the general public unsure how to react.
After waiting his turn to be greeted, Yamamoto handed over the letter to the 79-year-old emperor, who did not appear to be shocked by the act, and even took a few moments to talk with the young lawmaker. Empress Michiko was more apprehensive, tugging on her husband’s arm, trying to end the conversation. The message was written on folded “washi” paper with ink and brush, which the chief steward, who was standing next to Akihito, grabbed as soon as the emperor turned to him.
Even 70 years after Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, renounced his divinity following Japan’s defeat in WWII and became a symbol of the state, it shows that there are still many sensitive issues surrounding the emperor’s position. Many conservatives still consider the emperor and his family divine, and still believe a commoner should not even talk to him. Despite these beliefs, emperor Akihito does meet ordinary people, which includes those in disaster-hit areas of northern Japan.
An upper house committee is currently discussing whether to discipline Yamamoto and a decision is expected this week. The 38-year-old lawmaker, who was elected in July as an independent, has apologized for troubling the emperor but rejected calls to step down. He is also an anti-nuclear activist, which motivated him to make an appeal to the emperor about the crisis in Fukushima and its possible health impact on residents and workers cleaning up the power plant.
Neither Yamamoto nor the palace has released the letter’s contents but if they sought the emperor’s assistance, he may have violated a law requiring cabinet approval for such requests. At a news conference on Tuesday, the lawmaker said, “I just wanted the emperor to know the reality. I was frustrated by not being able to achieve any of my campaign promises yet.”
Via The Guardian