Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Birth of a Future Emperor (reposting from the Cryptic Blog)

The following Q&A is part of an email exchange with IHT's Patrick Smith, which grew out of another email exchange inititated by a mutual friend (acquaintance?). I have lightly edited the answers, written on the night of the birth of the new future heir to the Three Sacred Implements, for grammatical accuracy and parallel construction "intern" for "Lewinsky"). I thought this as good as any for giving my views on matters concerning the Imperial Household as they relate to the event. I’ve also translated my own comments into Japanese, and in doing so have added some words that will enable them to be read as stand alone comments. I'd be happy to give this issue further thought on this blog.

I would like to think my comments were reflected in Mr. Smith's analysis. Unfortunately, the online link ends mid-sentence, at "realit", which is not even a word (sidebar: 206-2007, Winter Semester: "Realit vs.Fakelit: Artifice in Creative Writing" Fall, 2 Credits). I guess I'll have to buy the hard copy to se if I got my name into print.


"Speaking broadly, as a matter of bedrock knowledge, I should be sure I understand just where the imperial family stands for most Japanese—still very important? Less than before? Less solemn, meaning this is more a celebrity magazine sort of event than it might have been before? I have Japanese friend who say they've avoided this whole matter rather the way one might avoid the latest Walt Disney movie."

I think a substantial majority is supportive in the same way American Jews are supportive of Judaism. That is to say, the Imperial Household has different meanings for different people, including their supporters. The celebrity magazine factor has been there since 1958, when we celebrated the wedding of the current Emperor and Empress. It is the celebrity magazines that have changed. (Think: Kennedy/gang moll vs. Clinton/intern.) The Imperial Household figures certainly less prominently in Japanese these days than in 1958; there are more distractions. (Think: CBS/NBC/ABC vs. cable, satellite, and Internet.)

As for Disney movies, no, I don't watch Disney movies anymore, either. But I'm not trying to make a statement out of it. I don't trust people who avoid Disney movies any more than people who pretend to enjoy Raymond Carver. In any case, Disney movies are hugely popular, more popular, say, than the run-on-the-mill indie hit.

「大多数の日本人は、皇室を支持していると思いますが、それは、ちょうどユダヤ系アメリカ人がユダヤ教を支持しているのと同じような具合なのでしょう。つまり、皇室は、人によって色々と違った意味を持っているわけで、それは、支持者達も同じことです。おっしゃるような有名人扱いは、1958年の今上陛下と美智子様のご婚儀の時からずっとあります。有名人を扱っている週刊誌の方が変わったのです。(昔、ケネディ大統領とマフィアの愛人との関係を米国のメディアが見てみぬふりをしたことと、クリントン大統領とインターンとの関係を格好の話題にしたこととを比べていただければ、言わんとするところがわかっていただけると思います。)また、1958年当時と比べて皇室が日本人の関心の中で占める割合は、確かに落ちていますが、これは、他に関心を引くことが多くなっているからです。(また米国の例を挙げれば、 CBS、NBC及びABCがテレビ放送を独占していた当時と、有線も衛星放送も、それにインターネットが加わっている今日との違いのようなものです。)


"Is there a sense of relief in this: At last a piece of joyful news from the imperial household--after 60-odd years of Showa, then the matter of Masako, etc. --finally something to rejoice? Also, there is something forward-looking built into a birth, something untarnished by the past. Is this a factor--a psychological tendency here?"

There have been a lot of things to rejoice over in the Imperial Household, the marriages, the births; all in the Heisei Era, if I remember correctly. But, beyond the obvious joy, there is an obvious sense of relief over this; after all, a lot of people think we’ve been able to avoid a divisive and, for those whose lives could be indelibly altered, distressing debate over the succession till the mid-century. I disagree, of course, as you know from the occasion. Something untarnished by the past? You said it, not me. I have a hard time thinking in terms of symbolism.


"Do you think that, post-Showa, the imperial household is receding in importance. We had Meiji, Taisho, Showa--all rather high-profile. Post-Taisho, has a century of prominence ended and the imperial family is, speaking figuratively, again receding to Kyoto?"

The Taisho Emperor was not high-profile at all. But of course the Imperial Household is receding in importance. So you're making a good point here. If you look at the last 1,000 years, the highly politicized Meiji and Showa Emperors are much more of an exception. It is interesting, personally, that you mention Kyoto. I had always felt the Emperor should return annually, perhaps to take up residence during January-June. I don’t think Kyoto deserves it as much anymore. A roving Imperial Household would also be fine with me. Again, I am thinking literally; not, like you, metaphorically.


"What about Japanese women? What is the significance of this for them? Not long ago, the nation seemed to favor a change on the succession law to allow female succession. Now it seems to be sighing a sigh of relief. Am I right about this?"

Japanese women? The nation? The short answer is, I don’t know Ms. Japanese Women, or Mr./Ms. The Nation. I don’t think it’s life-changing moment for most of them, if that’s your question. Who are these two people? If you happen to meet either one of these people, let me know. I’ll introduce you to the Snark, as well as my friend the Leprechaun. Having said that, of course most people here are relieved that a difficult question has been resolved. But I told you that already.


"I note that just today the government announced that it would shelve the succession law. What is your thought on this?"

If they did, I think it's the right decision, if it really is a decision. (Pretty obvious, isn't it?) But we’ll have to face up to it sooner rather than later. It's not fair to the people concerned. You cannot walk up to a guy selling insurance and tell him the new law says you're the fifth in line for the Emperorship. Only happens in Disney movies.


"Is this some sort of setback for Japanese women in this respect? (My editors far away ask this question.)"

Your editors should be fired. Of course not, it's totally irrelevant. Japanese women have changed, and will continue to change. But the goings-on in the Imperial Household have had little to do with this.


"Can you relate the position of women in Japanese society to this situation? Are the doings of the imperial family any kind of model for behavior in the sociological sense--do Japanese women draw lessons from this?"

No, I don’t think so, and how should I know. I do expect a slight up-tick in the birthrate next year, but it takes two to tango.


"My own thought is that this is a measure of the growing distance between the imperial family and ordinary Japanese--the family being rather in a world of its own. Do you agree?"

Yes, the Imperial Household is in a world of its own. But the borders, if anything, have become more permeable. Think of Princess of Kiko as a working woman (it is a full-time job, in the family business, if you will) who has another child, late in her reproductive life. I don't think it is that atypical for a woman marrying in to a family business here. Ask around. An American, in a similar situation, would, of course, shack up with a younger woman and get a divorce.


"Where are we with Japanese women in the economy and politics? Is the trend not the other way--they are becoming more engaged in work (again) and more evident politically?"

More, yes, but still less so than elsewhere. It is a mystery to me. I do not have a clue.


"What is your sense of how Masako is doing? What about the couple to whom this child is born?"

I don’t know them well enough to make a good guess.


"Is there an aspect of this I have not noted that you think bears mentioning?"

I'm sure they are. But I can't think of any right now, except a few things I can only speculate about. And you're the one being paid to ask questions. Would you pay a fee for question I thought up and you used? I thought so.

Good night, and good luck.



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