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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Don't Touch The Emperor!

The big news coming out of Japan is the Thursday, November 7, 2013's item about a commoner delivering a letter directly to the Emperor. That's what you see in the photo above taken by Koji Sasahara for AP (Associated Press).

That's Yamamoto Taro (second from the left) handing a letter to Japn Emperor Akihito, while the Empress pulls at her husband's arm to get the fug away! 

I know, I know… big whoop, right? Well… it's not just in Japan—even though the media everywhere is jumping all over this—but there are protocols in affect when meeting and greeting Royalty - and handing over a letter is a no-no…

Now… aside from the protocol of a commoner not merely handing anything over to a Royal because it's simply NOT done… the better excuse would be because of security reasons.

The letter could easily have contained some strange white powder containing say, Anthrax (the disease, not the awesome power rock band!)… strange white powders keep being shipped via mail to political people all the time…. why not a hand-delivered message of death?
The best kind of Anthrax!

Well… the mailman in this case wasn't trying to kill anyone. He was/is a Japanese lawmaker who wanted to draw attention to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

And it wasn't just via the contents of the note he handed off, rather he KNEW that by handing it to the Emperor was a breach of protocol… and that by doing so he would gain much wanted media attention.

The Japanese lawmaker played the system. Whomever would have thought THAT could ever happen?

So... here's the story.

At some point in time last week... at the annual Autumn Imperial Palace garden party, Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife, Michiko, were greeting guests.

One of those guests was Yamamoto Taro (surname first), 38, considered to be an out-spoken actor-turned lawmaker, who, as he greeted the Emperor, bowed and handed him a folded washi paper letter written with ink and brush in a formal Japanese style (so it was done respectfully).

First off, who's making the guest list? Secondly, for reaching towards the Emperor, how was he not shot by bodyguards? Or is the security that lax. Hmmm, think all the nut jobs on the planet. Fix the security!

Now... to the Emperor's credit, he calmly took the letter and chatted briefly with Yamamoto—all the while, the Empress was tugging from behind at her husband's elbow to gently urge him away. I'm betting she knew and cared more about the protocol than her husband.

Actually... I'm betting that the Emperor knew and cared about the protocol... but he cared MORE about appearances and chose NOT to embarrass Yamamoto.

Now... while the Emperor was not panicked, and showed splendid decorum in the face of someone not playing by the accepted rules of Japanese society, when he did turn to his steward after getting the letter, the steward immediately took it from him.

Here's the big thing, however. Japan's media is all agog about Yamamoto's transgression - and indeed the should be... he broke Royal greeting protocol.

If his cause was just, then he should have trusted his message would have reached the Emperor regardless. But his way, while highly effective, is just crass commercialism... for Yamamoto and his cause.

He has just shown Japan that the squeaky wheel - even if it gets no grease - at least lets everyone know there's a problem.

Got a beef with processed beef being called steak - why not stick a stake through the heart of a Prince?

Your green tea not being green enough - why not toss it on the Royal babysitter to tell them you are fed up and not going to take tepid green tea anymore?

Sounds goofy, right? But Yamamoto proved you can make people listen to you - all you have to do is break a few rules, if not laws.

But... here's the thing... why can't you touch the Emperor or hand him a bag of peanuts if you want?

He and his ilk haven't been divine - god-like - since the end of WWII when the US made Japan's Emperor Hirohito (current Emperor Akihito's dad) renounce their godhood forever.

So... if he's not a God, what's the big deal?

It's not - but he is part of the Royal family... and as long as Japan has one, you should show him and the other members respect. That means following set protocols.

That's the way it should be until the country decides otherwise.

Anyhow... here's the cool thing. Emperor Akihito is not a snob. He has no problem meeting with and talking with Japan's commoners. Yeah, he's rich and gets treated with more respect in one hour than you will see in one week, but he's the Emperor.

I know, I know... you didn't vote for him... but he is your leader who does...


... I have no idea what Japan's Emperor does nowadays... but he's the Emperor of Japan... you can tell... he hasn't got sh!t all over him.

Yes... a long way for two Monty Python jokes.

But seriously folks... the current Emperor has met with survivors of the Fukushima disaster... so it's not like he's completely ignorant of what's going or not going on. I'm sure he heard about it from his Twitter account @RoiC'estMoi47.

Anyhow... here's the cool thing... regarding Yamamoto... he's not under arrest or anything like that. He simply broke an unwritten rule that is probably written down somewhere about what you can and can not do around a Japanese Royal.

These things are considered IMPOLITE, and if you are Japanese, I would say that these are then part of Japan's cultural customs:
  • No freely talking to the Emperor (speak only when you are spoken to... but if we ALL did that, then no one would ever say anything);
  • Don't touch the Emperor (I assumed that would be here when I came up with the headline 60 minutes ago);
  • Don't hand the Emperor anything without permission granted beforehand.
  • No cellphone picture taking of the Emperor or his family.
I did not know that last one. I don't think anyone does. I took it of the current Emperor's son, Crown Prince Naruhito about 20 years ago in Nasushiobara, Tochigi-ken. Being the only gaijin (Foreigner) there that day, I was able to easily peer over everyone's head and get a great look. It's a pity I only had a disposable camera with me that day... I was simply out and about with Noboko when we heard about a Royal visit taking place at the local train station. A stupid hot day, I towered over Noboko and tried to shield her from the blazing sun... and for a second I tried to block her from the Royals. Who knew such pointy elbows could inflict so much testicular damage?

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. Pic by Andrew Joseph in 1993.
But... even though there are no legal ramifications for Yamamoto, being a politician, it could still be tricky and he could face discipline from the Upper House Committee and be banned from any possible future palace events.

According to Yamamoto, he says he wanted 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, after three near nuclear meltdowns from 2011.

Uh... dude... I think he knows.

While the letter's exact contents have not been made available for public consumption, the contents are actually important.

If Yamamoto (an Independent with no political party affiliation) actually sought the emperor’s assistance, he could have violated a law requiring Cabinet approval for such requests.

Separately, Yamamoto has denied he tried to use the Emperor for political reasons... which is good... because in the Constitution, the Emperor is not allowed to act in any way that would make him seem to be political. His is a ceremonial role only.

"My behavior was indiscreet for a place like the garden party," Yamamoto said at a news conference on November 5, 2013. "I just wanted the emperor to know the reality. I was frustrated by not being able to achieve any of my campaign promises yet."

While the Imperial Household Agency has Yamamoto's letter, they can confirm that the Emperor has not yet read it... which means he probably never will...

But... with public outcry over the whole situation and with the Emperor regarding himself as a King of the people (who should never be touched), it will be interesting to see if he will ask his Imperial Household Agency (usually that's known as "The Wife") for the letter to read... he may never do anything about it, but he could at the least read it... but even if he doesn't...

Well... for Yamamoto... we have to consider the message was received loud and clear.

The plight of Fukushima's irradiated site and displaced population is in the spotlight again.

Andrew Joseph

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