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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 M by 2015

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'i
X
Scott Stearns
September 23, 2014 10:52 PM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video US, Gulf Allies Strike Islamic State Militants in Syria

United States forces have carried out strikes against Islamic State or ISIL militant positions in Syria - the first time Western forces have taken action on Syrian soil. Five U.S. allies from the Gulf joined the military action. Local reports suggest dozens of militants were killed. The U.S. also carried out unilateral missile strikes against a Syria-based terror group which Washington says poses an imminent threat to the West. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video High Intensity Focused Ultrasound Used to Kill Cancer Tumor

There is a new way of killing certain cancer tumors that allows the patient to go home on the same day. Surgeons at the Keck Medical Center of the University of Southern California became the first doctors to use this procedure on a patient with the help of high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU, and new robotic technology. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in Five Countries

Hollywood stars Alicia Keys, Jennifer Garner and 30 others have voiced their support for a U.S.-backed initiative called "Let Girls Learn." The $231 million program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is aimed at ensuring public and quality education for girls worldwide. As VOA's Mariama Diallo reports, this new program will focus on five countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Video

Video UN: Relocation of Bedouins in Israel Weakens Two-state Solution

Rural Bedouins living in disputed lands east of Jerusalem could soon find themselves forcibly relocated. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Jerusalem that while Israel defends the move as in the Bedouins’ best interests, the United Nations says the plan threatens the survival of the two-state solution with Palestinians.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Prolonged Drought Plagues SW Oklahoma Farmers

Parts of western Texas and southwestern Oklahoma have been in drought conditions for several years running and the deficit in rainfall has taken a heavy toll on cotton and grain production. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin says the state has suffered $2 billion in agricultural losses since 2011. There has been rain in recent weeks, but, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Altus, Oklahoma, for most farmers it has been too late.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid