Sunday, December 12, 2004

Give Japan's royal diplomacy a chance

by Fumio Kitamura.
Something is amiss within Japan's Imperial household.
For nearly a year now, the Crown Princess Masako has
suspended her official functions for "health reasons."
The public knew next to nothing about the details of her
disposition or the effectiveness of treatment, for
reasons that included the extreme lack of information
disclosed by the Imperial Household Agency and the
voluntary restraint on reporting exercised by Japan's
mass media.

Eventually, the cause of Princess Masako's impaired
health was disclosed in an unexpected manner. The Crown
Prince himself said during a press conference in May
that the Crown Princess had been "deeply distressed by
the fact that she was not freely permitted to pay
overseas visits, even though she considered promoting
international good will an important role to be played
by a member of the Imperial family."

He went further, stating flatly that "there were indeed
some moves purporting to dismiss Masako's career and her
personality based on that career."

It was an unprecedented event in the Imperial family,
bound by tradition and convention and cloaked in a heavy
shroud of secrecy. It was only after the Crown Prince's
comments that the Imperial Household Agency announced
Princess Masako's illness to be "stress-induced
adjustment disorder."

Taken together, the Crown Prince's comments and the
official announcement of the Crown Princess's illness
allows us to infer that she had been tormented by the
inability to fulfill her self-imposed duty of Imperial
diplomacy and by a myriad of related psychological

Ordinary Japanese cannot fathom the kind of Imperial
diplomacy that the Crown Princess had been aspiring to.
Up to the mid-19th century, the fate of nations was
decided by the flamboyant and elegant diplomacy of
monarchs that was described as the "congress dances."

However, the epoch of absolute monarchy has long gone.
While several advanced countries still retain
monarchies, they do so under the "reigns but does not
rule" principle. Politicians and bureaucrats are the
central players in diplomatic negotiations. Members of
royalty are no longer diplomatic players in the true
sense of the word. Why then do we still refer to the
term "royal diplomacy"?

For today's royal houses, the opportunity for
international exchange lies mostly in ceremonial visits
to other countries -- attendance at royal weddings and
funerals and visits for good will and charity. Broad
attempts at contacting citizens of the receiving country
are made during the visits. Itineraries consists mainly
of attendance at charity events and concerts, art
exhibitions and sports events, as well as inspection
tours of kindergartens, universities, hospitals and
nursing homes. Almost without exception, royal diplomacy
is characterized by a schedule of events that are highly
visible to the mass media.

In today's information age, members of royalty attract
extra media attention as "noble celebrities." Their
graceful yet unassuming demeanor and friendly
conversations with the general public are magnified by
media reports. And the royal image thus created with
these goodwill visits has the effect of planting in the
minds of the general public an image of the country
whence they came.

The greatest function that can be expected of "royal
diplomacy" is creating a positive impression of the
society that has a constitutional monarchy.

Internal change within a royal household also tends to
signify social changes taking place in that particular
country. In the royal houses of Europe and the Middle
East, career women of common birth and foreign women
with a history of divorce are sometimes chosen as crown
princesses. Such news is received outside those
countries as an indication of democratic maturity and
tolerance not only by the royal house concerned but also
by that society as a whole.

Political leaders such as presidents and prime ministers
can seldom be expected to communicate a positive image
of their society to the outside world. While there are
no doubt many leaders with high-minded personalities,
power struggles are dogged by conspiracy, oppression and
treachery. There is no end to the number of political
leaders who have been stained by scandals involving
bribery and corruption, nepotism or illegal information
gathered against political rivals.

Severed from political power, today's constitutional
monarchies have been freed from the negative elements of
politics. Their transformation into such a detached role
has expanded the domains in which "royal diplomacy" can
be effective.

Crown Princess Masako is blessed with ample qualities
for pursuing "royal diplomacy." She was educated at the
best universities in America, Japan and Britain, is
fluent in several languages and has experienced
difficult diplomatic negotiations as a career diplomat.
She is an invaluable asset for communicating Japan's
good image abroad. That the Crown Princess has suddenly
disappeared from the public view and remains unable to
perform her official functions is indeed a considerable
loss in terms of promoting international exchange.

To help Princess Masako overcome her adjustment
disorder, we must alleviate and eliminate the
psychological pressure. According to media reports in
Japan and abroad, the greatest cause of pressure
apparently originates from her concern that she has yet
to produce a male heir to the Imperial throne. Many also
report that the Crown Princess also suffers from the
heavy sense of stagnation and isolation caused by
long-standing protocol that places excessive
restrictions on her freedom in daily life.

To restore a lively expression to Princess Masako's
face, it is essential to encourage more openness in the
Imperial institution and respect for the individual
freedom of Imperial family members. We must also
consider revising the Imperial Household Law, which
limits the right of succession to a male heir, and open
the way to accession of an empress.

[Fumio Kitamura is the former general manager of the FPC,
a former professor of Shukutoku University and former senior
editor and London bureau chief of the Yomiuri Shimbun.]

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