The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the third installment in the series “New Emperor, New Era.”
On Feb. 18, 2005, five days before his 45th birthday, the Emperor listened carefully to the recitation of a poem titled “Children Learn What They Live” at the Togu Palace.
Written by a U.S. scholar on family education, the poem starts with the verse: “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.” The poem goes on to say that if children live with encouragement and tolerance, they learn confidence and patience, and ends, “If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.”
“It is really a profound poem,” the Emperor told Naohiko Jinno, who recited it. Jinno was dean of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tokyo at that time. The Emperor nodded deeply as Jinno said, “The most important community is a family.”
During a press conference held two days before his 2005 birthday, the Emperor was asked about how he nurtured his daughter Princess Aiko, then 3 years old. The Emperor quoted all the verses of this poem and emphasized the importance of familial love, saying, “It’s good if these things can be learned through family life.”
At that time, the Emperor and the Empress felt increasingly isolated.
The Emperor married the Empress with a promise to protect her with all his strength. But she became unwell in December 2003 and began to receive treatment.
At a press conference held prior to an overseas trip in May 2004, the Emperor said there had been moves that denied the career and character of the Empress. Even senior officials of the Togu Palace were not informed of the remark in advance. They recalled that they were surprised to hear it during the press conference.
When some media circulated a story speculating that Princess Aiko could have developmental delays, the Emperor made an unusual decision in September 2004 to release a video showing the private life of his family.
The video taken by the Emperor showed Princess Aiko reading a picture book in a sweet voice. The footage of Princess Aiko appeared to be a silent protest by the Empress, who, according to the Imperial Household Agency, was “distressed by thoughtless speculation.”
The Emperor bathed Princess Aiko and fed her baby food. During a press conference, he revealed his thoughts that a father’s participation in child rearing not only decreases the mother’s burden but also deepens interactions with their children.
As the Empress continued to receive treatment, her opportunities to perform public duties decreased. Amid this situation, a weekly magazine reported that a rest taken by the family was criticized as “enjoying a summer vacation.” The criticism was directed at the Emperor as well.
In February 2013, a conservative polemicist criticized the Emperor in a weekly magazine, saying: “He seems inclined to be mindful of his own family. He fails to perform the roles that should be fulfilled by the crown prince.” A monthly magazine carried a contributor’s story titled, “Crown prince, would you please abdicate?”
“An emperor has no private life,” State Minister Tokujiro Kanamori said during a Diet session on the establishment of the Imperial House Law in 1946, one year after the end of World War II. High expectations are placed also on a crown prince, who will eventually accede to the throne, to devote himself to the public. The Emperor Emeritus — when he was crown prince — was once criticized as a “family man” because he brought up his children firsthand, a break from Imperial custom.
The Emperor’s priority of protecting his family was unshakeable. Every year at an annual news conference to mark his birthday, the Emperor repeated, “I want her to expand her range of activities little by little without feeling pressured,” as if talking to the Empress. The Emperor has continued to seek public understanding for her, asking the people “to watch over her warmly.”
The Emperor visited France without the Empress last September to attend goodwill events during a nine-day scheduled tour. On the morning of the day after he came back, the Emperor went to the Imperial Palace to report his return to the Kyuchu Sanden three sanctuaries and to pay a courtesy call on the Emperor Emeritus and the Empress Emerita. That afternoon, the Emperor attended a water-related international conference.
He followed this tight schedule by himself and returned home with a smile. A former close aide of the Emperor, who witnessed this, has long thought that “the criticism of the Emperor is one-sided.”
The Emperor, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of his wedding last year, revealed in a document his thoughts that the family, which is the basis for human relations, can serve as a starting point to connect with regional communities, the nation as a whole and other countries in the world.
A former classmate of the Emperor said: “He sustained his family steadfastly even when they were in difficult situations. He will surely become a symbol who will stand by the people in a predicament with real sympathy.”Speech