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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid