News / Asia

    Japanese Lawmaker Reprimanded After Letter to Emperor Hits Nerve

    FILE - Emperor Akihito addresses the nation from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
    FILE - Emperor Akihito addresses the nation from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
    Reuters
    A Japanese lawmaker was reprimanded on Friday for breaking a taboo by trying to involve Emperor Akihito in politics when he handed him a letter expressing concerns about the health impact of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
     
    A furor erupted after Taro Yamamoto gave Akihito the handwritten missive at a garden party last week, the first such bid in more than a century to draw the emperor's attention.
     
    The incident highlights Japanese sensitivities about the emperor that linger nearly 70 years after his father, in whose name the Japanese military waged World War Two, renounced his divine status.
     
    The topic was also unwelcome for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under pressure for his handling of the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Abe faces demands from some in his party and from charismatic former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to give up nuclear power altogether.
     
    “There's a consensus in the ongoing political squabbles of the day that the emperor ought not be involved. It's crossed the line,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus. “And clearly, nuclear energy is a huge political issue in Japan today.”
     
    On Friday, Parliament's upper house barred Yamamoto from attending events with the imperial family and issued a stern warning, an official said.
     
    “Always keep in mind that you are a lawmaker and do nothing to dirty the name of parliament,” ran the warning, local media reported.
     
    Yamamoto, an actor and anti-nuclear activist elected to the upper house in July, said he had wanted to tell the emperor about the “endangered future” of Japanese children due to health problems from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation since being struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
     
    About 150,000 people were evacuated after the disaster. A vast swathe of land remains off-limits while traces of radioactive contamination have been found in rice and far out in the Pacific Ocean.
     
    Demands that Yamamoto quit were voiced immediately; a magazine poll of 1,100 readers said 90 percent disapproved of his action. He apologized for “worrying His Majesty” earlier this week but refused to heed the calls for his resignation.
     
    “The standard for 'political use' is not clear,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University. “The issue of nuclear reactors is a minus for the LDP, and that's one probable reason the reaction is so strong.”
     
    In the past, generations of Japanese believed their emperors to be gods, but Akihito's father, Hirohito, gave up the status of divinity after World War Two. The post-war constitution declares the emperor to be “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” with no political powers.
     
    The only previous instance of an emperor being directly handed a letter was in 1901, by a former lawmaker protesting industrial pollution from a copper mine. He was arrested on the spot but helped set off a citizens' movement on the issue.

    A scientist who researches fish, Akihito, 80 in December, has tried to draw the imperial family closer to the people. Conservative Japanese revere him, while many others feel a fond affection. At the same time, some Japanese feel the whole family is irrelevant.
     
    Iwai and other political experts said Tokyo's successful Olympic campaign included a speech by a princess, and Akihito attended a government event early this year to mark Japan's regaining sovereignty after World War Two, a bid to restore national pride by conservatives like Abe.
     
    “Using the emperor is something that's been done by the LDP government for quite a while now,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University.
     
    “I think [the problem] is it's touching upon a subject that's very much a taboo issue.”

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    Party's presumptive presidential nominee, her vice presidential pick deliver optimistic message in Florida as they campaign for first time together

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora