Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Imperial Diplomacy Reassesed
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Senior Editorial Staff Writer, the Mainichi Newspapers

December 3, 2004
It is unsurprising that Japan and overseas countries may have different perspectives and analyses of the same events. I feel, however, that nothing draws these differences in sharper contrast than the subject of Imperial diplomacy.

In Japan the accepted objective of the overseas visits by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress is to promote "international goodwill." Imperial visits are expected to deepen friendship with people from all different fields in the host nation. What is interesting to the Japanese public, therefore, leans towards the non-political: how Their Majesties were received in terms of their personality and whether, through Their Majesties, Japan has become more familiar to that country.

It is telling that many of the journalists of various Japanese media who cover the Imperial Household Agency and follow Their Majesties on their overseas trips belong to the city desk that handles topical news and not to the political or foreign affairs desk. The news consequently tends to focus on 'How warmly the people of the host country received Their Majesties,' or 'The personality of Their Majesties charmed the public'.

Such an interpretation in itself may not be erroneous. Seen from abroad, however, Their Majesties' overseas trips--or Imperial diplomacy—cannot extricate themselves from their 'close links with Japan's foreign policy' and therefore become tinged with political implications. The host countries receive The Emperor as the head of state; sometimes they even attempt to extract political significance from the imperial visit. The imperial visits, in fact, have elicited the kind of diplomatic effect that cannot be obtained through meetings and negotiations between the Government leaders.

What comes to my mind is Their Majesties' official visit to the Netherlands in 2000. Japan rarely thinks of its relationship with the Netherlands in terms of World War II. Yet the fact that 22,000 Dutch prisoners of war and civilians died out of the 130,000 who were detained by the Japanese Army in Indonesia and the fact that some Dutch women were forced to be the so-called 'comfort women' have cast a shadow upon the otherwise excellent economic relationship between the two countries. The Emperor Showa's unofficial visit to the Netherlands in 1971 was encountered with heavy demonstrations. Issues being as it were, the Netherlands long remained the only major Western European country to which the Emperor had never paid a State visit.

The State visit by Their Majesties to the Netherlands in May 2000 on the occasion of the quadricentennial commemorations of Dutch-Japanese relations was so successful that it was said that 'such an effect could not have been achieved by repeated visits of the Prime Minister.' Thorough preparations by both Japanese and Dutch authorities responsible for the visit and solid guidance from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands herself no doubt played a huge role in paving the way for the successful visit. But more than anything else, behaviors of Their Majesties had an ameliorative effect. On this visit Their Majesties talked directly to the Dutch people, expressed "intense grief" suffered by the Dutch war victims at the royal banquet attended by these victims and bowed their heads for a long moment in front of the monument erected in memory of the Dutch war casualties. Such symbolic imperial conducts helped to thaw the bitterness that had remained in the hearts of the Dutch people.

After the war the Emperor has become a symbolic entity separate from politics. As the result, the ensuing Japanese attitude has been to free Their Majesties' overseas visits from political implications. This inclination is especially strong in the Imperial Household Agency. The host countries, on the other hand, tend to read political intent of Japan from the words and behaviors of the Emperor. I, for one, am of the view that the Japanese people at home should appreciate more the positive role played by Imperial diplomacy: a role that far transcends a mere promotion of "goodwill" with foreign peoples.

The writer is Senior Editorial Staff Writer at the Mainichi Newspapers.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / 毎日新聞社専門編集委員

2004年 12月 3日




私が思い出すのは2000年の両陛下のオランダ訪問である。日本はオランダとの関係を第二次大戦からの視点で考えたことはあまりない。しかし、日本軍がインドネシアで抑留したオランダ人の戦争捕虜・民間人約13万人のうち約2万2000人が死亡したことや、オランダ人女性が従軍慰安婦(confort girl)となった問題は、良好な経済関係の背後で、両国にノドに刺さった骨となっていた。71年に昭和天皇がオランダを非公式訪問されたときは、激しいデモに見舞われ、こうしたこともあって西欧の主要国で、天皇が公式訪問されていないのはオランダだけだった。


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