Japan furious about new book: “Princess Masako – Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne”

Book Cover Princess Masako - Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum ThroneJapan’s extreme sensitivity over its royal family was laid bare yesterday when it reacted furiously to an unauthorised biography of its most famous – and controversial – princess, entitled “Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne; the Tragic True Story of Japan’s Crown Princess” (Click title to see the book on Amazon.co.jp).

Japan’s Imperial Family, the oldest royal dynasty with a 2600 year history has been somewhat in danger due to the fact that even after 13 years of marriage, Princess Masako, and Crown Prince Naruhito could not bear a boy to succeed the throne. They are both now well into their 40s, and after suffering a miscarriage in 1999 they have given birth to only one child, Aiko – a daughter (with the help of IVF treatment). Even the birth this year of a new son and heir to her sister-in-law Princess Kiko has done little to relieve Masako’s stress – and has only postponed for a generation the vexed issue of changing the law to allow a woman to inherit the throne. Royal protocol has denied the princess, who was educated at Oxford and Harvard, the kind of high profile role that she and her husband clearly intended. Instead, she has been allowed on only a few official visits overseas and has endured intense pressure to produce a son to secure the line of succession.

Masako and Naruhito with Baby AikoLet’s recap some background about the marriage of Masako and her husband, before focusing on the book. The Crown Prince of Japan Naruhito, and Masako Owada married in 1993 in a Shinto ritual deep in the woods of the Imperial Palace, igniting fanfare similar to that of the Prince Charles and Lady Diana wedding of July 1981. The wedding in Tokyo, making Masako a June bride, was undoubtedly the most talked-about royal event in decades. In earlier times Japanese royal brides came from the nobility, but Naruhito followed in the footsteps of his father, Emperor Akihito, by marrying a commoner. Unlike the 2 step (engagement and marriage) process of common people, marriages in the Japanese Imperial Family follow three distinct rituals with the first being prior approval of the Imperial House Council. Naruhito and Masako were locked in matrimony on the following schedule (in which the bride and groom had literally no say):

  1. 19 January 1993 – Imperial House Council (皇室会議, koshitsu kaigi) Approval
  2. 12 April 1993 – Engagement Ceremony (納采の儀, nosai no gi)
  3. 9 June 1993 – Marriage (first child, Aiko born in 2001)

Now, 13 years after this somewhat speedy 4 month marriage procedure, a new book has been released by the Australian author Ben Hills. The book, “Princess Masako – Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne”, is an unofficial (and unapproved) biography of Princess Masako, and it’s content has sparked outrage from the Japanese Kunaicho (Imperial Household Agency) and the Japanese Foreign Ministry, with diplomatic waves of strong dissent rolling as far as Canberra.

The Author describes the book as follows:

… a look behind the ‘Chrysanthemum Curtain’ to the arcane world of the Japanese royal family, where vestal virgins still preside at Shinto rites and the position of royal stool inspector was only recently abolished. Through Masako’s and Naruhito’s love affair, it opens a window on Japanese attitudes towards parenting, mental illness, the role of women, and the place of the monarchy. Princess Masako asks and answers many questions which can never be raised in Japan because of the reverence in which the Emperor and his family are held. What is the real reason Masako had to abandon her studies at Oxford? Why did the Kunaicho, the powerful bureaucrats of the Imperial Household Agency, oppose the marriage? Who are the shadowy figures that persuaded Masako to give up her career and marry the prince? Why is there such secrecy over the couple’s use of IVF, and Masako’s mental illness? What does the future hold for the star-crossed couple – and for the survival of the monarchy. But above all it is the story of a romance gone wrong, which neither will survive undamaged, but from which neither seems capable of escaping…

Charles and Diana WeddingOne must draw a comparison here with the Prince Charles and Lady Diana saga. You may recall that in 1992, 11 years after their marriage, they faced a very similar situation when a book by Andrew Morton titled “Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words” was published. The controversial book about the Princess of Wales portrays her as a deeply depressed and unstable character with suicidal tendencies. Buckingham Palace would not comment on any specific claims, and said Princess Diana did not co-operate with the biography in any way whatsoever. The author Andrew Morton however, maintained the book’s accuracy, and when promoting the book just one week after an event where Diana was filmed breaking down in tears in Liverpool, he claimed that “The tears that she has shed in public in Liverpool are nothing compared to the tears she has shed over the last year. I can’t emphasise strongly enough the volatility of the situation inside Kensington Palace”. The unofficial biography alleges that Princess Diana tried to kill herself on as many as five occasions during the 1980s.

Well, I am not sure about the suicide attempts, but it seems that the social pressure and stress of being a royal princess knows no borders. One can not help but think that we are seeing the Oriental version of Lady Diana in Princess Masako’s unfolding story, especially in light of Ben Hills’ new book. Inevitably, the strain of it all has had a terrible impact on Masako, who has not been able to perform any of her royal duties for since December 2003. According to the book, she has been afflicted with painful shingles, and is suffering from deep depression – although the palace will not admit it. There has also apparently been talk of divorce, though no royal has ever divorced in Japan’s history. Also, although highly unlikely, some even say the Crown Prince is considering renouncing his claim to the throne for his wife, Masako – leaving the crown to his brother. With the Emperor himself ailing with cancer, the imperial system in Japan seems to be in deep crisis.

The book is not in stores in Japan yet. In November, the Japanese publisher Kodansha announced that it would publish the book (in Japanese) in Japan. However, after the bullying from the government they announced last Friday (Feb 16) that they would not be going ahead with publication.

Last Tuesday, (Feb 13) the Japanese Foreign Ministry called a press conference in Tokyo to denounce the book as “unfounded and highly contemptuous descriptions” of the imperial family. They made no specific claims of factual inaccuracy, and contented themselves with deeply inscrutable statements such as saying that the book contains “..disrespectful descriptions, distortions of facts, and judgmental assertions with audacious conjectures and coarse logic”. In protest letters sent to the author and the publisher in Australia, Random House, the ministry demanded an apology and “prompt measures to remedy the situation.”

“Under the Japanese Constitution, the emperor is a symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” the letter said. “The government of Japan can by no means ignore contempt for his majesty the emperor who holds this constitutional status, nor contempt for other members of the imperial family as well as the people of Japan”, it went on to say. The rare intervention by the Japanese government was also delivered from their embassy in Canberra, directly aimed at the author, publisher, and calling for the Australian Government to take immediate action. Ben Hills, the Australian author and a former Tokyo based journalist, refused to apologise yesterday and accused Japan of attempting to censor his book.

The Kunaicho (Imperial Household Agency) itself has also written a letter (dated Feb 2007) to the author of the book, publishing it (HERE) on the Internet – not such a traditional form of communication for the Kunaicho I must say. The letter clearly expresses dissent and distaste for the book, but surprisingly does not seem to deny any of the facts presented about Masako or the Crown Prince at all, focusing rather on allegedly erroneous content surrounding the current Emperor and Empress:

I would like to focus on a passage in the book which is directly related to them and totally wrong from a factual point of view. In Chapter seven of this book, you write that, “The Emperor is said to have more than 1000 engagements a year, though all are undemanding formal appearances at uncontroversial events.”

The letter goes on to outline all the important engagements that the Emperor and Empress of Japan have been involved in, completely missing the chance to rebut and dismiss the main point of Hills’ book, i.e. Masako, and how she has been severely mistreated by the Agency, driving her into a recluse life of sickness, depression and it seems, infertility. If there were untruths in what Hills has written, surely the Kunaicho’s arguments could have been stronger, and more to the point than the waffling b/s they have presented to the world in this letter.

The Imperial Family - The Perfect FamilyJapan has long covered its Imperial family in a protective veil, misconstruing it as the perfect family, a role model for all Japanese subjects, while hiding their personal problems and concerns under the carpet. Japanese journalists traditionally report the imperial family in a reverential way. Honorifics and especially polite terms are used whenever writing about them. Stippy.com however, is not Japanese journalism. The fact that our tax money is used to support the bureaucracy surrounding such a ancient form of keeping the country united bothers me greatly, and I certainly am uncomfortable with the unearned and blind respect that the Japanese media and people pay the pudgy Emperor and his family (the same goes for royals in any other country for that matter!). In this perspective at least, Ben Hills’ book is doing well to shake the foundations of the Kunaicho, asking what value (apart from an empty warm and fuzzy feeling) the Japanese Royals really are giving back to the people of Japan.

Leave your thoughts and comments on the book itself in the section below, or tell us what you think of the Japanese Imperial Family in general, including corrections to anything facts that I have wrong. (My opinion of the Royal Family as a bottomless hole for our tax money will not change though, so rather than slandering me for it, just let us know yours!)

36 thoughts on “Japan furious about new book: “Princess Masako – Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne””

  1. I happened to be working at an event in 2003 where the Crown Prince made a speech. What was really odd was that about 10-15 minutes before the scheduled arrival, out of nowhere 3-4 bus loads of mostly elderly women suddenly appeared, were handed flags and lined up to cheer at the entrance. Which the duly did for the cameras when the prince got out of his car and walked into the building. They then promptly disappeared. The event itself was registration only and none of them were allowed in to witness the speech. It made me think of two things 1) how much money was being spent on this little bit of stagecraft 2) if the royal family gets this treatment wherever they go they are bound to be a bit odd.

  2. Common knowledge or urban legend?

    A Japanese friend who used to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs related something in passing that I’d never heard of but which she took for granted. Bear with me while I lay the foundation for the question.

    Part of the backstory to Masako’s inability to bear a male heir was the politics over changing the succession rules to allow a female to ascend the throne. The alternative proposal was publicly urged by another royal family member (I’m forgetting his name) was to sanction a return to concubinage. What he advocated (and which seemed to reflect the preferred right winger solution to the problem) was to allow the Crown Prince to have a go at a concubine or two and then have the royal couple adopt the offspring of the Crown Prince and concubine as the legitimate heir.

    The western press treated the story as one of those ‘oh isn’t Japan strange’ stories in the vein of used-panties-from-a-vending-machine. My ex-MOFA friend had an eye-opening observation however. She didn’t see the story as terribly odd because after all, Crown Prince Naruhito’s real mother was just such a concubine because the present Empress had not been able to bear male heirs.

    I googled a bit and could neither confirm nor disprove the tale. Anyone else heard anything like this and if so, do you know what the correct terminology involved is? What is the concubine called?

  3. Crown Prince Naruhito’s real mother was just such a concubine because the present Empress had not been able to bear male heirs:

    This means that the current Empress is not the Prince’s mother?? In that case, if its such a standard and accepted practise, then it would make sense for the Crown Prince to have a couple of girlfriends no?

    Is the issue that the idea of “having girlfriends (or concubines)” has become non-acceptable these days, after just one generation?

    Having a concubine is called having a 側屋 right? Literaly the “room next-door”.

  4. “Is the issue that the idea of “having girlfriends (or concubines)” has become non-acceptable these days, after just one generation?”

    That is exactly the question that occurred to me. If concubinage has been used in the last 50 years to produce a ‘legitimate’ royal, the recent international coverage of the female succession issue (neatly mooted by Princess Kiko’s recent delivery of a male heir) takes on a different cast. Rather than being another in the weird Japan storyline, the issue becomes a traditional-but-not-mentioned-in-public resort to concubinage vs. should the rules be changed to dispense with female concubines in favor of female heirs.

  5. The author is not kidding about the stool checker. I’ve seen an official stool tester (not the person, the equipment used) once when traveling. The guide referred to it as a 健康チェック (a health check). It took me a while to work out what she was referring to.

    The scary thing is that the stool checking was by far, the least weird of the Royal family’s customs that I’ve heard about.

  6. My mind is refusing to hear “stool tester” as anything other than some kind of furniture inspector…

  7. It’s kinda silly to place the burden of creating a male heir on Princess Masako. When everyone should know from h.s. biology that ‘sex determination’ is strictly based on the male chromosome and not the female. So even if the Crown Prince had concubines, his defective sperm still would only spit out girls.

  8. I think Dave Barry should have written this book.

    One thing I noticed was that there is mention of 1000 visits a year. Watanabe-san, the fellow who wrote the letter to Hills, didn’t rebute this fact whichs means he admits to the figure of around 1000 visits a year. Using my abacus to work this one out, this equals around 3 official visits per day everyday of the year = pure madness on an insane scale. Doing three visits a day would only leave room for them to be “undemanding formal appearances at uncontroversial events” now wouldn’t it, eh?

  9. Whats brown and sits on a piano seat?

    Although most of us cringe to hear it…..checking stool is more important than having a blood test and is one of the most ancient methods in medicine…..just like testing a cars exhaust content!
    Im shocked that they could cut the position and fire the poor brown noser. hope they gave him poo insurance.

  10. the author of this article is obviously unhappy that Japan supports the Royal Family financially but where does a Gaijin get the right to bash Japans Roaylty in such a manner?

    Go make your own country a Republic first and if it already is then I suspect you begin to get some idea of why we have Royalty in the first place, and its historical role and present day significance.

    Even great minds like Thomas Hobbes concluded that without a final authoritative figure a country will be forever in internal strife….and thats also a part of why the US didnt get rid of them during the Occupation. And why the modern US ends up with Bush in Charge….a modern Monarch wouldnt tolerate him twice in a row!

  11. The author seems to be a gaijin, yes, but it looks as though he pays taxes like any Japanese person, and therefore he also, is supporting the Royal Family financially. So, what he says is valid (as his opinion), in that he doesn’t like seeing his tax money used for what he sees as a redundant part of history. Sure, if he lived and payed taxes in another country, he doesn’t have any right to say what he says about the Heika and co.

  12. so the problem now comes down to a gaijin issue? geez! can a xenophobe like gman carry a conversation on international level without using the “g” word? i’ve heard japanese people who work abroad complained about the govt of their host country — which is perfectly alright, as no country should exist in isolation. but when the table is turned, you get people like mr. xenophobe here waiving the “g” flag. it makes me wonder how on earth the mainstream japanese media can describe north korea as a “hermit” country when japan still have citizens like mr. x who believes in shielding his country from foreign critiques. boo!!

  13. This all seems a bit silly to me. First of all, the whole tax payer paying for the Royal Family is the same in every country even if there is a monarch or not. The role of the Emperor and the Royal Family is of national interest and so should be paid for by the state. In every country I know of where there is a national monarch the state pays for their upkeep, in countries where there is no monarch the state pays for the upkeep of their high ranking officers such as the President, the Prime Minister, the Ambassador, the members of Parliament, diplomats, etc. In most cases the payment or the budget for the upkeep of such positions increases with the rank of the position. The only way I can think of right now for why the Royal Family should be criticized for using tax payer’s money for its upkeep is that the Royal Family plays no role in the Japanese Nation State. That, however is very debatable, and honestly I can not imagine the Royal Family not playing a large role in Japan, or its people.

    Now for the “stool tester” its honestly not as strange as one would imagine, and is certainly not a sign of “backwardness” (such a statement is demeaning and simply unproductive as hopefully many who visit this site understand). In modern medicine a colonoscopy and other tests are hugely important and useful. In the end the “stool tester” fulfills the same or similar function to that of other more complicated (though not necessarily more effective) forms of testing.

    As for staged welcomes, this is certainly not odd or uncommon. I would like to even go so far as to question whether you know or not if those older persons did not want to be there, or that they are not avid supporters of the Royal Family. Perhaps they were there to show genuine support for the Royal Family in front of the cameras, and perhaps they would have been there had there not been cameras. Perhaps for the participants it was more real than theater.

    Anyways, the Japanese bureaucracy’s reaction to the book seems to be normal and I would almost guess normal procedure. To vehemently deny a book’s authenticity and truthfulness until proven otherwise. Also, why should they point out all the mistakes in the book, if there are any, if by doing so it draws more attention to details of a book that would harm more than a book in general. If they can cast doubt on the book’s authenticity without bringing anymore attention upon the details, it could effectively “kill” the book without having to address all the little issues that could harm the image of the government, the agency, or the family itself. All it takes is one specific example and then the harm has been done, to keep the issue the book in general no real damage can be done.

    Well anyways, the gaijin question is also really silly. Just the mention of “gaijin” should just trigger a numbness. However I do take issue with the idea that xenophobia is calling someone a gaijin or even that no other country has their own fair share of xenophobes. Everyone has the right to complain and say what they want, within the bounds of social responsibility (unless you want to discuss the ups of pure freedom for the purpose of freedom and support for the “public sphere”), that I would rather take the argument against xenophobes out of the context of real nations and focus on the issue of xenophobia as a condition rather than a national trait.

    And finally, though Skippy.com is not Japanese Journalism nor is it journalism at all, it is more a collection of opinion pieces (at least that is what I gather from reading this piece). As such, I believe it would be more fun to refrain from using such blanket declarations that label things as “ancient forms”, especially when one can see a disconcerting association with things not western as ancient, backwards, or uncivilized. I think it would also be more useful to try to try and question the nature of the Royal Family before passing such judgments upon it.

  14. Japan’s heir to the throne asked people to be patient with his wife as she recovers from a stress-related illness.

    Speaking ahead of his 47th birthday, Prince Naruhito said the health of his wife, Masako, was slowly improving.

    Princess Masako, 43, has been rarely seen in public since late 2003 after suffering from what the palace calls an “adjustment disorder”.

    The Japanese edition of a controversial book about the princess was cancelled last week after government objections.

    The Japanese Foreign Ministry claimed the book, Princess Masako – Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne, contained groundless claims and insulted the royal family.


  15. The Gman is a gaijin….if i was black Id call myself Niga…..so what? Sorry if the word bugs you, I find it useful…lets take the issue up another day if you wanna discuss it.

    I struggle to see what Ben Hills wishes to achieve. What do you expect when the cover claims she is a ‘Prisoner’ and its a ‘sad story’. Its a tough life and no-one denied this when they married. She decided to marry and accept the consequences of the Royal crown. She climbed the top of the ladder as far as career is concerned. I’m sure the wife of GE CEO is on antidepressants too!

    And applying modern day womans lib ideals onto the Royal Family e.g. poor lass had to give up her career… to become a princess! Come on mate get with it…you think a Princess holds a 9-5 job with a twice yearly bonus?? Is a womans value based only on her corporate job or profession and does not the role of a Royal Trump the lot?

    As for complaining about use of your 8minimal) taxes… (bet you pay at least double back home). You can complain about your annual 0.0001 yen donation to the royal upkeep once you Japanese citizenship

    Thanks to the Author for the link to the formal letter to Hills..thats set to become a Historical document, very interesting!

    You think Hills will ever get a work visa again?? or a loan from a Japanese bank?

  16. i totally agree that hills’s work/title is more for sensationality than of substance, but you (gman) should just criticize what you perceived to be a lack of quality as precisely that — questionably sensational work with little substance. to link it with hills being a gaijin, well, that’s another story. and irrelevant, to say the least! your bringing up the issue of hills’ gaijin-ness speaks more about you (as xenophobe) than about hills’ seeking sensationality in his work.
    lastly, you have every right to use the word niga, gaijin, etc. but you have to be ready for the consequences of people (foreigners in japan & black people) raising hell at you. alright?

  17. Why does a blogger calling himself ‘gaijin’ get so upset about the use of the word??? p.s can I be labelled a xenophobe as a gaijin in reference to other gaijin??

    As a white guy I never call black people niga..as i find it racsit though I do use it in reference to other white guys as a joke. As a gaijin i fell i havethe right to call other gaijins gaijin. this site states its By Gaijin For Gaijin!
    (I wonder if theres a site By Nigas For Nigas??)

  18. @G-Man
    Just for the record, we in the UK have a royal family, and I consider them to be a waste of money, as big or even bigger than the Japanese Royal Family. Just a huge money pit which is wholely unnecessary. I view the Japanese Royal Family in the same light.

  19. @Gman
    >>p.s can I be labelled a xenophobe as a gaijin in reference to other gaijin??

    No, you should be labeled as a weeaboo.

  20. thats funny!

    1. weeaboo

    A game whereby the one who is caught saying the word weeaboo must be chained to a pipe and paddled by all around him/her. Those with the paddles must chant weeaboo until the paddling is finished and the one chained to a pipe is released.

    3. Weeaboo

    Someone who is obsessed with Japan/Japanese Culture/Anime, etc. and attempts to act as if they were Japanese, even though they’re far from it. They use Japanese words but usually end up pronouncing them wrong and sounding like total assholes. You can find alot of these faggots clogging up the forums of Gaia Online, hanging out in the international aisle of the supermarket, or crowding the manga section of your local bookstore. Synonym of wapanese.
    Can also serve as a euphemism for ‘clusterfuck’ to describe a bunch of people acting stupid in some inconvenient way.

    e.g “I told that weeaboo girl over there that Inuyasha sucks. She slapped me across the face and proceded to cuss me out in Japanese.”

  21. Gman, I think that the answer lies within your question. Why do not need them? Well, for starters, why do we actually need them? There-in lies your answer 🙂

  22. Not so long ago I had the good fortune to tour the Imperial palace grounds as the guest of a man enployed within the Kunaicho. During the tour, he recieved word that the emperor was on his way, headed toward us. The dozen or so household staff members there turned in the opposite direction. I was instructed to do the same, as none of us lowly mortals were fit to view this living embodiement of God with our unworthy human eyes. We all stood there at attention until the heavenly being passed. It was quite a chilling experience which provided great insight into how and why Japan is what it is. Anyone enertaining romantic orientalist sentiments about the topic may find Patrick Smith’s book Japan: A Reinterpretation a very interesting and challenging read.

  23. Well if I must, I have to say that all the Royal Family amounts to is a very expensive figurehead. It is an absolute waste of money that could be spent much more wisely. At a cost of £37m per year, this is an amount of money that could significantly put towards other projects and communities in the UK. Spending all that money on providing a lavish lifestyle for a family whose contributions are miniscule in comparison, I believe that ‘waste of money’ is rather accurate in describing them.

    Care to argue?

  24. @James,

    Ok so the basis of your arguement is purely economic…”it costs a lot of money therefore its bad” .
    If thats the angle you wish to take then perhaps we need to see how much the UK makes on Tourism . Lets look at the top most visited sights and I can guarantee the historic buildings built due to the presence of Royalty dominate it. I am not familiar with these sites but please inform me. look at the products …high end luxury items developed for royalty and now major earners for the economy
    The presence of royalty throughout history has formed the very identity and culture of your country and under the kings and queens a whole empire expanded and grew wealthy beyond imagination. trade rotes carved out and terrotories claimed under the name of royalty. Even now there must be revenue from whats left of the empire.

    this is just a start…..

  25. Hey gman. I really didn’t want to admit it but you do have a point there. Palaces are about the only thing that i’ve ever visited in the UK. Better yet, think about the newspaper industry – what would News of the World be without the royals?

  26. @VS

    Too busy looking at the trees, to see the forest?

    I’m amazed at how casually you explain away so many of these concerns as “not uncommon.” A small handful of oddities can be overlooked, but ignoring a huge pile of them is asking for trouble.

    Staging welcomes may not be uncommon, but it’s still dishonest. Especially, when you’re staging it with people who won’t even be hearing the speech. It’d be an easier issue to ignore if they brought people out of the venue to cheer in front of the cameras. But no! They bussed in a large group of the elderly.

    Seeing as the PlayStation 3 launch was mobbed by Chinese nationals hired to buy the consoles, I can see why you shrug this off so easily.

    Pressuring a publisher to withhold a book is not the same as spewing vitriol at the book/author/publisher. It’s called censorship.

    Having someone else check the Royal Poo for oddities seems strange to me. However, I can easily shrug that off. I certainly wouldn’t expect someone of royalty to do something as “common” as that. That said, having an official position for this function is a bit much.

    It reminds me of a South Park episode. Half the town was driving around in their new, eco-friendly Prius sedans. They became so smug and full of themselves, that they would regurarly bend down to inhale their own farts, like they were vapors wafting off a delicious cup of mountain grown, full-bodied Folgers(R) coffee.

    The thing you’re missing is that once you catalog all of these oddities, you end up with quite a book.



    How many peasant revolts has history seen resulting from the common people finally getting fed up with the excesses of their elite? How can you defend such an anachronism? Such institutions have been done away with, except in a few backwards looking countries that still haven’t gotten over the fall from their lofty perches.

    As for those historic buildings in the UK, they weren’t built by any of the recent royal families. And most of the pieces in the Royal Collection are how old? I do think that some tourism revenue would be lost without a royal family, but I certainly don’t think it’d be catastrophe.

    Then again, Richmond may have a very good point. I wonder how many tourists hope to catch a glimpse of something juicy they can gossip about when they get back home.

    Forbes Magazine lists 946 billionaires. I think Haute Couture has nothing to worry about.

    And my final counter arguments to your defense of keeping the Royal Family: most of the stuff you mention happened in the past, under the rule of monarchs that actually had something meaningful to do. Both these royal families are merely riding on the coattails of their ancestors, and serve not real purpose anymore.


    As for book: I’m pretty sure Ben Hill and his publisher purposely came up with a sensationalistic title, that would peak people’s curiosity.

    I can’t speak for his intentions. However, this by itself doesn’t mean his only intention is to gain fame/notoriety and stuff his pockets. It could go either way.

    Either he’s trying to take advantage of the Royal Family, by spreading gossip. Or, he’s trying to shed light on something that’s much easier for him to see as an outsider. I’m ambivalent about it as this point, as I don’t know much about the book or the author.

    However, unlike some people, I’m convinced that a golden cage is still a cage, without being placed in one.

    P.S. I sure hope this blog accepts anchor tags.

  27. Oh, I forgot to mention one important last point:

    Sadly, if Ben Hills’ intentions are indeed honest, this book may not reach much of the intended audience. If they’re not, then this broohaha over the book will probably work in his favor.

  28. The most likely reasons this is so upsetting to the government are:
    1. the Emperor has a god-like status
    2. the family represents the nation
    3. they serve to unify the country
    4. they boost the people’s moral in times of crisis
    5. the people of Japan are more likely to take into consideration what the Imperial Family says than the current government
    6. they keep the nation’s ancient traditions alive

    These things, along with their implictations, are most likely the reason why the current Japanese government is very upset.

    And on top of that, coming from someone who is a gaigin would most likely upset the Japanese public.

    (The reason most likely is used is because these I don’t know the minds of he government, but are based on logic and knowledge gathered as well as politics.)

  29. It’s June 2209 and I’ve just read Ben Hills’ book. I’m heart sore at what Princess Masako has had to endure all of these years. I commend her husband the Crown Prince (somewhat) for standing with her. However good grief the man is next in line to be the Emperor can’t he tell the Kunaicho to step back and allow her to use her considerable talents to the benefit of Japan? Is it such a difficult matter to improve the environment that almost destroyed his mother and is slowly destroying his wife so that she can begin to move out of her clinical depression? It seems a pretty simple option to me. Though as an American I also freely admit that I know very little about Japan’s culture. I just really think that if the people want their princess restored to her previous vibrant nature they’d insist on her being helped properly so that this can end in a way that would benefit all involved.

    When it is so obvious what the problem is I don’t see why people are being so terrible to a woman who stepped away from a promising career in order to be of service to her country. Being married into the royal family seems to not be high on most peoples list of a good move. So the fact that this woman did so and tried to do what was expected of her to the detriment of her health should mean something to the people. It seems that she needs help now and that which is fairly easy to administer is being denied. That is sad and unfortunate in a country so advanced in other ways.

    Just thought I’d point out the obvious.

  30. Sitting at home and I suddenly thought of Princess Masako… and found this website… here, far after the discussion above is over, I’m adding my own comment… interestingly, in the opposite fashion of the royals and famous, anonymously.

    I didn’t have much interest in her when I lived in Japan, but now she has soared to (momentary, perhaps?) heroine status in my mind. A fabulous story for a Shakespearian tragedy… but doesn’t have to end that way. It isn’t a story of something archaic at all. It’s the story of my family, too (of sorts). I’ve even had Japanese friends say, “Wow, your family sounds like an old samurai family.” People have a way of repeating themselves–even in different cultures.

    My family… the perfect fundamentalist Christian family, always displayed when in public, and when in private, too. According to the family mythology, we were the perfect family (probably still are, but I’ve since privately removed myself from the list). My father didn’t have to be a deity, just someone sanctioned by God. I’m American, but I learned to smile when unhappy. (What are all the tiny inscrutable smiles really about?) I believed all of this perfection hype, too. When the depression finally threw me a curve ball of reality, thank God I had no camera on me.

    However, my father really still thinks a camera is on him, maybe even more so as the specter of death steals closer and closer… more mythology is needed to replace reality. Utmost effort is put into making staged dinners, well-coiffed conversation. The starry-eyed think my family is a paragon of greatness (of course this is further shinied up by narratives by my father). I go to these dinners on rare occasion just to do “family time.” Thinking of them requires mental effort.
    To my own chagrin, the spineless me (in American terms, not Japanese ones), I carefully modulate my responses. One who is not aware of ancient immovable systems intertwined with the fear of the deep unconscious may not understand this.

    I’m about the same age as Masako… I think of having children. I’ve investigated IVF and tried it once so far. I feel uneasy keeping this a secret from my mother, but in such a system of repression it seems best to keep certain sorts of personal decision under wraps until one feels it absolutely necessary to make a declaration about it.

    Of course, I am a lookie loo like all the rest of you. The story has sudden interest to me because it relates to and develops the mythology of myself. It is quite gratifying to know that Masako and I graduated with high honors and then did not finish our graduate degrees… Humans like me (and the rest of you) are fascinated by such stories because we envision an intersection between ourselves and someone who has been, or at least should be recognized by the larger whole of society. Such a sublime line-up of characters in this story for me. I sit in secret triumph over my mother (equals Michiko) who walks and talks like a doll whenever she realizes she’s on display. She doesn’t wear little hats or bow, but she wears little Bible verses and could not be more graceful in her dance around the sun god (my father). Like Michiko, she has her own private story, of course, but this is very, very private, even from her own eyes, often.

    So, there you have it… I don’t have to worry about the gaijin thing because I’m tapping into the universal unconscious. As a woman, I’m also privy to the universal sisterhood.

    Masako’s depression (and of course, what the heck do I know what she’s really thinking?) is the little kid saying “The Emperor has no clothes…” My little kid is just dancing with that.

    You can talk about politics and culture–that’s all fascinating and worth discussing, but that’s just one level of the discussion.

    Speaking of the weight of roles, A Japanese friend of mine knew someone who was proposed to by the Prince (is there any news of such a story?!?) and her family flatly refused the proposal on grounds that being married to royals would be a weight too heavy to bear. I think the Japanese are quite aware of having to take on roles, but remember, the Japanese also have traditions of the terrible ultimate solution for forsaking these roles… To judge a person for knowing ahead of time the entirety what a role will entail would be to deny a great number of stories told on this very theme by the Japanese themselves. A Japanese CEO friend of mine recently told me that he was going to have to lay off 6 employees and that he felt personally responsible for their fates–it was a sign of terrible and unforeseen times for him–do you think he could have possibly calculated the cost he now feels when he began his career?

    Depression hits like a ghost in the night– often a kind of safety valve to insanity… felt at a personal level and not easily explained or captured by isms or grand systems. But placing our own stories in the context of nobility seems to ennoble them on some mythical level.

    I think I will buy the book. I will reflect on myself as I read it. I hope it doesn’t have an anti-Japan tone. I really don’t want to be distracted by that sort of narrative.

  31. Hmm,..it’s amazing that a developed country like Japan still allows these primitive systems to exist. Do away with the whole thing and let Masako live in peace! Same goes for any group of people that take pride in the perceived achievements of others who happen to be genetically related. Make your own achievements, don’t piggyback on some dude who was lucky enough to be king couple of hundred or thousand years ago.

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