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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #82: November 14, 2002

Japan Empress Won't Save Old Home

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Japan Empress Won't Save Old Home"
by The Associated Press / Washington Post


It was a fine day in mid-spring, sunshine mildly warming the air, as if the weather, usually unstable during this period, was also celebrating the event of the day. It was April 10, 1959, when Prince Akihito was to marry Michiko Shoda, who, for the first time in modern history of Japan, was a commoner to mate the Crown Prince.

It was the time when Japan's economy was at the dawn of the flourishing era, upon recovering from the ruins of the war that ended fourteen years before. The three most wanted appliances of a family at the time, dubbed as the "three sacred durables" were a washing machine, a refrigerator, and a television set.

It was a rare opportunity for the manufacturers to promote the sales of TV sets. Although a large part of the ceremony was not for the cameras to be allowed to participate, people swarmed the shops to purchase their first TV sets so as to get any glimpse of the matrimonial ceremony as it happens, despite in monochrome. Indeed, it was one of the phenomenal events that shot up the diffusion rate of TV's in Japan's households.

People watched Michiko bid farewell to her parents and leave home in a limousine. Millions of people saw the house, where she had lived, as the backdrop of her departure, and last month it was disclosed that the house was decided to be demolished.

The article introduced here reports the events that followed. Initially, there was uproar of arguments where many would demand the building to be preserved to commemorate the Empress. Then a statement from the Royal Palace calmed it all down. It said that it was the desire of the Empress herself for the house to be dismantled, then to quietly fade into history.

There are very few, if any, who question the personality of the Empress, even among those who are against the Emperor system. Always modest, as if to avoid being in the way of her husband, she rarely speaks up for herself. But when she does, everyone seems to be attracted by her charm and sincerity.

One of such occasion was the meeting of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), held in Basel at the end of September, where she gave a speech. Incidentally, it was her first overseas trip alone, without the Emperor. There, phrases in the speech, such as the one quoted below, impressed the audience.

"Perhaps it was the little girl who still lives in me who urged me to come here to attend the Congress."

The Empress's English is perhaps not as fluent as that of a native speaker, but it by far surpasses the levels of an average Japanese, and her serene manner of presentation makes it truly noble.

It is, however, not that the Empress is merely gentle and mild in her character. She is also very receptive and thoughtful, a glimpse of which could be observed in her recent comment on the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, when she said, "Why did we fail to more strongly recognize the absence of these people as a tragedy of our common society?" This is not only an expression of grief, some say, but also a subdued anger and a warning towards the trend of collapsing community. A poem she introduced by reciting in the speech at the IBBY meeting also provides a hint to the Empress's character.

On the cheeks
Of your innocent newly born,
Do not drop
Of your own despair.

Though now these cheeks are red and small,
Hardly more than damson-plums,
Who knows that someday
They would not flush and glow
In a battle
For humanity.

She is undoubtedly, and almost literally, the crown jewel of Japan.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications