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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:52 03/09/2007
News Review #97: January 21, 2003

Japan's Monarchy, Once Godlike, Shows Its Frailty

Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE

"Japan's Monarchy, Once Godlike, Shows Its Frailty"
(by Ken Belson with Howard W. French) New York Times


The article appeared on Friday, 17th in the anticipation of the Emperor' surgery. The prostate surgery was executed on Saturday, and it has been reported to be successful. The Emperor is in stable condition and expected to be able to walk in a few days. He is planned stay in the hospital for about a month.

The reason for introducing this article despite the surgery anticipated in the report is already done is that the article points to certain changes over the years of the Imperial family and their relationships with Japans people.

The article, in effect, has two facets. One is to analyze and explain how the Imperial family, or their chamberlains, has become more open and unconstrained in interacting with the people generally. And the other is the change in attitudes of people toward certain, sometimes fatal, diseases.

On the trend of more open Imperial family, the article points out changes seen in certain behaviors by comparing those of current Emperor Akihito to that of late Emperor Hirohito. The first twenty years of Showa Era, which lasted for more than sixty years in total, was net necessarily the most beaming years in Japan's history. Military-led government at the time dragged the country into the morass of war. One of the tactics the military had employed was to deify the Emperor in the attempt to make their demands, claiming them to serve the Emperor, authoritative and nullify any criticism. It has been well documented that the Emperor Hirohito himself was not at all in favor of the militaristic Japan, but some suggest the fact he was used as a symbol of it had later made him behave rather as a quiet and passive figure.

As to the peoples' attitudes toward serious illnesses, it is still largely considered prudent and thoughtful not to tell the patient the true story. It seems that more serious the illness, the tendency to hide it from the person is stronger. The doctor would tell the truth to the sufferers' family, and the information would be kept away from the patient. The custom may be changing, as the article suggests, but it is very gradually at most, and definitely not with any momentum. It would still seem awkward for many Japanese to tell someone, especially to a loved one, that the person is dying from of a fatal disease. It is natural then, for the details of the illness of the late Emperor to have been hidden from the public to hide it from the Emperor himself. And for the Emperor Akihito this time, revealing the disease itself indicates that it was in fact not serious.

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