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

Empress Michiko's Birth Place and Her Public Spirit
Mikie Stillman / Director, National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA)

December 16, 2002
The last scene of the movie: "Roman Holidays" moves us even after half a century since its first appearance. The young princess forces herself to smile in determining to pursue her public duties and giving up her love for an American journalist and at that point the audience cannot stop their tears. It is said that this was based on the love story of Princess Margaret of the UK.

The British royal family reminds us of late Princess Diana. Many people in the world still feel sympathy toward her, not because she restrained her personal emotion for her duties but because of her absolute unhappiness after joining the royal family despite her beauty and apparent good fortune.

Male members of the British royal family are following their personal emotion not to mention the king famous for his "Throne or love" and the current crown prince who cherishes his mistress Camilla. They even seem to have a grudge against their accident of birth.

Some say the Japanese imperial family follows the British as a model, however, many Japanese wish that their imperial family members behave themselves bearing always in mind their public status and duties unlike the British equivalent.

Recently it was decided to dismantle the house where Empress Michiko was born and brought up. To pay the inheritance tax that her family owes to the state, the land without the house will be sold, following normal practice. She, as the first ever princess coming from a non-aristocrat family in the Japanese history, departed for the wedding ceremony with the crown prince from this very memorable house. Many people signed a petition not to tear down the house and a donation for its transfer was about to start. The town of Karuizawa, where the crown prince fell in love with her, decided to offer a land where her birthplace would be transferred. Then the news broke: the Empress did not prefer the preservation of her birthplace. In the absence of her explanation, various interpretations and guesses were presented.

1. The Empress preferred keeping the house as a memory in her mind, not physically preserving it and she thought that her late parents would have wanted it in the same way.
2. The government, among others the Ministry of Treasury that is responsible for the national assets and wishing the tax revenue, might lead the Empress to say that she did not wish the preservation.
3. The Empress decided to restrain her personal wish just as usual as she was afraid that only her birth place would be treated in a privileged way.

Only recently have we ordinary women been allowed to behave ourselves following our own will. We can easily imagine that those who were born into a royal family or those who joined a royal family still have to obey traditional values and their life is not so easy. That is why we are moved by the painful love of Princess Anne in Rome or the short and tragic life of Princess Diana.

I wonder whether Empress Michiko felt obliged to say something in the midst of daily mass media reports relating to the growing movement against the dismantling of the house, its transfer plan and the government's objections. And that when she made any comments on this issue, the preservation of her birthplace was completely excluded from her preferred options at the outset.

All the messy controversies surrounding her birthplace were silenced by the Empress' few words. It is just an episode in the peaceful Japan. However, this reminded us of the Emperor Hirohito’s crucial words in ending World War II. Indeed we Japanese respect the brief words of the imperial family members when they are uttered after their deliberations. We were also moved by the statement of the Empress to the effect that we should have sympathized much earlier about the long absence of those abducted by North Korea.

The following is my own feeling about the issue related to her birthplace. It is the people who hold the Empress, who was not born in the Imperial family, in great reverence. Many people, whether they joined the petition or not, were willing to use public tax money to preserve the house where the Empress was born and spent her days until she married the crown prince. Nobody would have blamed her even though she had kept her silence and let the people make a decision. Yet, we all know that Michiko- sama has perfectly become the people's Empress through her almost half a century of long self-sacrifice. This, her most recent sacrifice touchingly reminds those who have forgotten or those too young.

The writer is Director of International Cooperation Department, National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA). She is former Professor of Osaka University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

スティルマン美紀恵 / 総合研究開発機構 国際研究交流部長

2002年 12月 16日












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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Empress Michiko's Birth Place and Her Public Spirit