The Japanese Emperor’s Quiet Rebellion

Japanese PM Koizumi’s uphill battles with his government’s imagination-impaired bureaucrats are not nearly as uneven as the Japanese imperial family‘s battles with the crushingly reactionary Imperial Household Agency, but guest blogger Oranckay at The Marmot’s Hole has an encouraging post about Emperor Akihito‘s quiet rebellion on a small Pacific island.

While visiting Saipan, Japanese Emperor Akihito made a surprise visit to a memorial there honoring Koreans killed during World War II, having been brought to the island as military conscripts in the Japanese military or as forced laborers. It is significant that he went to the Korean memorial at all, but also notable that he did so unannounced.

The Saipan Tribune, which naturally has the most detailed coverage of what happened, says Akihito was headed back to his hotel when his limousine suddenly pulled over in front of the memorial and that “no cameras were present.”

One might imagine two possible reasons why he chose not to let the world know he would visit the Korean memorial, and indeed both could have been a factor. According to the Guardian, some in Japan’s Imperial Household Agency opposed the emperor’s visit to Saipan altogether, but “relented when the emperor expressed a strong desire to go.” One Korean story quotes the agency as saying the decision was made to visit the Korean memorial only a day in advance and that even the Japanese consulate was unaware of what was going to happen. Then there is the issue of the island’s Korean residents association, which earlier had demanded that the Japanese emperor visit the memorial but (quite naturally) “found the Japanese consulate on the island unresponsive,” among other things. You can imagine the many Koreans, some welcoming but some there in protest, who would have been waiting had it been part of his official itinerary.

The Saipan Tribune reports a few more heart-warming aspects.

On the same stop, Akihito and Michiko also paid tribute to the Okinawan people who died on Saipan during the war.

Both the Korean and Okinawan memorials are located within the vicinity of the memorial built by the Japanese government in Marpi.

However, members of the media who are covering the emperor’s visit were not as pleased. Most of them apparently headed back to the media center at Dai-Ichi Hotel Saipan Beach immediately after the Banzai Cliff activity, thinking that it was the last stop in the imperial couple’s tour of Marpi.

Ooh! Ooh! Even better. He flummoxed the media (hardly worth an exclamation point). And that’s not all.

The fall of Saipan was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. As many as 55,000 Japanese troops and civilians died in the three-week “Operation Forager,” which began on June 15, 1944.

Early Tuesday, Akihito offered prayers at “Banzai Cliff,” which owes its name to the shouts of “banzai”–a cheer wishing long life to the emperor–by Japanese who plunged to their deaths rather than face capture by the American troops. The royal couple later visited monuments to more than 5,000 Americans, about half of them Marines, and 1,000 or so islanders who were killed on Saipan or nearby islands.

Akihito, 11 years old when the war ended, has been to China and has expressed remorse for the past during visits to Japan by South Korean leaders. But he has never made a trip to offer condolences at a battlefield overseas.

The Japanese imperial family is perhaps the last royal line on earth to see their role as 120% duty and -20% privilege, and one of the few current royals for which I have any respect at all. I wish Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako all the best in their own subtle rebellions against the Imperial Household Agency. Give the latter some imperial robots to command instead.

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