Taro Yamamoto faces criticism after handing note to Emperor Akihito at garden party in breach of strict protocol
A novice Japanese lawmaker who wanted to draw attention to the Fukushima nuclear crisis has caused an uproar by doing something taboo: handing a letter to the emperor.
The ruckus began at an annual autumn Imperial Palace garden party last week. As Emperor Akihito and his wife, Michiko, greeted a line of guests, the outspoken actor-turned-lawmaker Taro Yamamoto gave the emperor the letter – a gesture considered both impolite and inappropriate.
Video of the encounter, repeatedly aired on television, shows the 79-year-old emperor calmly taking the letter, written on a folded “washi” paper with ink and brush, and briefly talking with Yamamoto. An apparently wary Empress Michiko gently pulled her husband’s elbow from behind. The chief steward, who was standing next to Akihito, grabbed the letter the instant the emperor turned to him.
Yamamoto’s action drew criticism from both ends of the ideological spectrum and left many Japanese baffled by what they consider to be a major breach of protocol: reaching out to the emperor in an unscripted act.
The controversy shows how the role of Japan‘s emperor remains a sensitive issue, nearly 70 years after Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, renounced his divinity following Japan’s defeat in the second world war and became a symbol of the state.
Many conservatives still consider the emperor and his family divine – “the people above the clouds” – and believe a commoner should not even talk to him. Decades ago, commoners were not even allowed to look directly at the emperor, but today Akihito does meet ordinary people, including those in disaster-hit areas in northern Japan.
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