Friday, April 27, 2012

The Real Emperor Makes Real News

On Monday night I had the pleasure of attending the Machimura Faction's political fundraising party, my impressions of which I hope to write up in a little piece entitled "Dances With Dinosaurs."

The highlights of the evening's festivities were the self-introductions of the faction's wannabees: the as-yet unelected Liberal Democratic Party candidates the faction would be supporting in the next House of Representatives election.

The Machimura Faction is the most patriotic of the LDP's factions. Its members make no excuses for holding on to some now rather curious, or should one say incurious, views of how life was in this blessed land before 1945. One of the candidates, a tall exhibitionist fellow, made an ostentatious show of turning his back to the audience to bow deeply to the Hinomaru flag, then marching to the front of the stage and shouting out his name and constituency, along with an incomprehensible bit of nationalist gibberish (there is a penalty that comes from shouting into a microphone and it is paid in a loss of the audience's ability to comprehend what one is saying).

One of the candidates introduced hopes to take Tokyo's District 24 from Democratic Party of Japan member Akutsu Yukuhiko, a former political secretary of Ishihara Shintaro and ardent defender of Article 9 of the Constitution (politics really does make for some strange bedfellows). The prospective candidate started out with a "Hello, my name is ____ and I am running for the district of the city of Hachioji" -- and then proceeded with the oddest and yet so-very Machimura Factionish of introductions of Hachioji I had ever heard -- "the district graced with the presence with the tombs of the emperors."

Now this is a true if not generally well-known fact about Hachioji. It does host the Eastern Imperial tombs, which are off-limits to the general public and can be seen only from the air. What is more they are tombs, that is to say the Taisho and Showa emperors and their spouses are buried there, each under a gigantic rounded mound. Indeed, emperors, empresses and Muslims are the only persons who are buried instead of cremated.

Yesterday the Imperial Household Agency made an announcement that will set the Machimura faction's District 24 candidate and every other rightists' head spinning: the ever-surprising and refreshing Heisei Emperor and the Empress have asked to be cremated. Furthermore, rather than an elaborate and hideously expensive separate tomb mound for each of them, they wish a simple shared gravesite.

It has been 350 years since an emperor or empress has been cremated. Emperors and their empresses have also been entombed separately since that time. (J)

The announcement will likely further enhance the reputations of the present emperor and the imperial family. Both are riding high in public opinion in their selfless devotion to the comforting of the people of the Tohoku in the aftermath of 3/11. The imperial couple's request to have the same sort of funeral the law requires of everyone else (again, with the exception of Muslims) and be together forever will likely result in a renewed outburst of public praise and admiration for the trendsetting couple.

The announcement will also drive a further wedge in between the members of the Imperial House and the rightists who claim to be the imperial family's supporters and protectors. The rightists are already up in arms over the proposal to have imperial princesses retain their nobility after marriage. This latest announcement will give the rightists fits.

Of course, the Heisei emperor has always had a penchant for thumbing his nose at the hyper-patriots and their historical blindness. His 2001 acknowledgement of his debts to his Korean ancestors, even in the minimalist way he did it, drove the preposterous celebrators of the pure imperial line nuts. His classic dry put-down of the Tokyo Metropolitan District official who boasted that all the employees of the TMD now sang the national anthem -- "Yes, and wouldn't it have been nice if they had not been coerced to do so?" -- left that official and the right speechless.

The current emperor and empress are opening up space for the succession of the crown prince, a subject that has gained increased urgency with the emperor's recent bypass surgery. If there is a rift between the current imperial couple and the rightists, there will be a chasm between the two when Naruhito and Masako mount the throne.

What is reassuring is that Prince Akishino is on board for all these changes. He has for the longest time been the wild card in the imperial house, willing to rebuke his older brother for departures from decorum and tradition. Now he sings the liberalization tune, being the one to bring up the possibility of the emperor being able to retire, a reform with ample historical precedent which right wingers for some reason detest. Perhaps being the father of the future emperor has something to do with Akishino's being a little more magnanimous and relaxed.

Professor Ruoff, would you have anything you would like to add?

Later - Yoree Koh of WSJ JapanRealTime has checked with some further information on the imperial request. (E).

The government has asked for a year to study the imperial couple's request to be cremated (J). It is hard to ascribe a noble purpose to not immediately granting the imperial couple's wish, save possibly putting to rest speculation that the emperor is at death's door.


The Chrysanthemum Sniffer said...

Love it. Can't wait for your report on the Machimura meeting.

The insane right seems to think that because the imperial institution provides the emperor-as-person with protections (conventional exemption from press scrutiny due to the fact that he has virtually no right of reply being one of the most important of these) and privileges, he should simply be silent and accept his role as defined by whatever tradition they happen to get worked up about at a particular time. It's great that Akihito finds ways, even if marginal, to question these "traditional" roles yet maintain his political impartiality.

Avery said...

It is, in fact, the traditional role of the Emperor to be silent and face eternity, as the nation faces him. But the last emperor who prominently refused to be silent was Meiji; and the last emperor who was more silent than he ought to have been was Showa. A simple study in the needs of the modern era.

MTC said...

Avery -

There is no traditional role for the emperor. It is up to individual emperor, the courtiers around him and the hold the ruling elite have on power to determine the role the Emperor will play.

I am not sure how one can attribute volubility to the Meiji emperor. Donald Keene's exhaustive biography does not support such a contention.

Nothing is simple as regards Japan's right wing and the role of the emperor.

Avery said...

Interesting... the 明治天皇紀 has a very different view of the life that Meiji lived.

Anonymous said...

I assume Jews can also be buried in Japan, as Jewish law requires burial, not cremation, and there is indeed a Jewish cemetery in Yokohama.