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

The Benefits of 'Royal Diplomacy'
KITAMURA Fumio / Journalist

December 3, 2004
Something is amiss within Japan's Imperial Household. For nearly a year now, the Crown Princess Masako has suspended her official functions for 'health reasons.' The public knew next to nothing about the details of her disposition or the effectiveness of treatment, for reasons that include the extreme lack of information disclosed by the Imperial Household Agency and the voluntary restraint on reporting exercised by Japan's mass media.

Eventually, the cause of Princess Masako's impaired health was disclosed in an unexpected manner. The Crown Prince himself said during a press conference in May that the Princess had been "deeply distressed by the fact that she was not freely permitted to pay overseas visits, even though she considered promoting international goodwill an important role to be played by a member of the Imperial Family." He even went further, stating flatly that "there were indeed some moves purporting to dismiss Masako's career and her personality based on that career." It was an unprecedented event in the Imperial House, bound by tradition and convention and cloaked in a heavy shroud of secrecy. It was only after the Crown Prince's comments that the Imperial Household Agency announced Princess Masako's illness to be "stress-induced adjustment disorder."

Taken together, the Crown Prince's comments and the official announcement of the Princess' illness allows us to infer that the Princess had been tormented by being unable to fulfill her self-imposed duty of imperial diplomacy and by the myriad psychological pressures involved.

There is no way for ordinary Japanese on the outside to fathom what kind of imperial diplomacy the Crown Princess had been aspiring to. Up to the mid-19th century, the fate of nations was decided by the flamboyant and elegant diplomacy of monarchs that was described as the "congress dances." However, the epoch of absolute monarchy has long gone. While several advanced countries still retain monarchies, under the 'reigns but does not rule' principle of constitutional monarchy, the king does not wield any political power. Politicians and bureaucrats are the central players in diplomatic negotiations. Members of royalty are no longer the diplomatic players in the true sense of the word. Why then do we still refer to the term 'royal diplomacy'?

For today's royal houses, the opportunity for international exchange lies for the most part in ceremonial visits to other countries - attendance at the weddings and funerals of royalty and visits for the purpose of goodwill and charity. Broad attempts at contact with citizens of the receiving country are made over the duration of their visit. Their itinerary consists mainly of attendance at charity events and concerts, art exhibitions and sports events, as well as inspection tours to kindergartens, universities, hospitals and nursing homes. Almost without exception, royal diplomacy is characterized by a schedule of events that are highly visible to the mass media.

In today's Information Age, members of royalty attract extra attention from the mass media as 'noble celebrities.' Their graceful yet unassuming demeanor and friendly conversations with the general public are magnified by media reports. And the image of royalty thus created throughout these goodwill visits has the effect of planting in the minds of the general public an image of the country from whence they came. The greatest function that can be expected of 'royal diplomacy' lies in the way it creates a positive impression of the society that has a constitutional monarchy among the peoples of other countries.

Internal change within the royal household also has the effect of symbolically signifying social changes that are taking place in that particular country. In the royal houses of European and Middle East countries, career women of common birth and foreign women with a history of divorce are sometimes chosen as crown princesses, and such news is received outside those countries as an indication of democratic maturity and tolerance not only of the royal house concerned but also of that society as a whole.

Political leaders such as presidents and prime ministers can seldom be expected to communicate a positive image of their society to the outside world. While there are no doubt many leaders with high-minded personalities, power struggles are dogged by conspiracy, oppression and treachery. There is no end to the number of political leaders who have been stained by scandals involving bribery and corruption, nepotism or illegal information gathering against political rivals.

Severed from political power, today's constitutional monarchies have been freed from the negative elements of politics. And their transformation into such a detached role has worked to expand the domains in which 'royal diplomacy' can be effective. Crown Princess Masako is blessed with the qualities for pursuing 'royal diplomacy'and ample experience with which to hone her qualifications. She was educated at the best universities in America, Japan and the United Kingdom, is fluent in several languages and has experienced difficult diplomatic negotiations as a career diplomat. She is an invaluable asset for communicating Japan's good image abroad. That the Crown Princess has suddenly disappeared from the public view and remains unable to perform her official functions is indeed a considerable loss in terms of promoting international exchange.

To help Princess Masako overcome her adjustment disorder, we must alleviate and eliminate the psychological pressure. According to media reports in Japan and abroad, the greatest cause of pressure apparently originates from her concern that she has yet to produce a male heir to the Imperial throne. Many also report that the Princess also suffers from the heavy sense of stagnation and isolation caused by longstanding protocol that places excessive restrictions on her freedom in daily life.

To recover lively expression to Princess Masako's face, it is essential to encourage more openness in the Imperial institution and respect for the individual freedom of members of the Imperial Family. We must also consider revising the Imperial Household Law that stipulates the right of succession to a male heir and open the way to the accession of an Empress.

The writer is a former Professor of Shukutoku University and former Senior Editor and London Bureau Chief of the Yomiuri Newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

北村 文夫 / ジャーナリスト

2004年 12月 3日











一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟