And We’ll Never Be Royals

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This weekend I decided to go to the Japanese Imperial Palace. I was very interested in the place when I first came to Japan, despite my usual disinterest in the life of royals. The reason I was so interested was because I had heard at one point in the 1980’s, some economists valued its real estate higher than all of the Californian real estate at the time (Oddly enough, the Economist who gave this number has no idea where it came from). I was never into following the British royal family and I never understood why some Americans did. I rarely followed any royal families anywhere mostly because I really didn’t understand it. However, this week through some reading, a visit to the Imperial Palace gardens, and research, it led me to have major sympathy for the Japanese royal family.

The Palace from Outside the gates

The Imperial Palace from Outside the gates.

When I was flipping through a textbook for one of my classes (Professor Kingston’s Book, Contemporary Japan), I noticed a section on the Japanese Royal family. Seeing as how I’ve heard nothing about them except the Emperor’s name, I decided to read the section. What followed was a revelation. The royal family has quite a hard time. For example, the Japanese media attacked a Japanese princess to the point where she had a mental breakdown. Her husband the Crown Prince apparently tried to shield her from this to no avail. The fact that he had to propose to her 3 times (She didn’t say no because she didn’t love him apparently. It was also because she had a promising career in the Foreign Ministry.), tells one that life in the Imperial Court is difficult. If I were in her shoes, I would say yes a million times over. The stress of court life and constant media coverage was obviously well known to her.

The palace grounds are enormous. When my friend and I entered, we had to get a ticket to prove we were “guests” of the royal family. My buddy and I had a hard time finding our way around and getting to places. It was beautiful though. There were layers of stone that resembled walls and there were layers upon layers of them. I assume they were layers of walls to protect the royal family. We climbed to one of the highest points on the palace grounds which was the base of an old castle. We could see for miles. It was surreal that here we were on the base of an 800 year old castle and there were skyscrapers all around us. It was a wonderful blend of traditional and modern. We looked around the palace gardens for a bit and then left excited to tell others to go to the palace. At the same time, however, it did demonstrate how isolated the royal family is. Despite being on the palace grounds and walking all over, we never came close to the family’s quarters.

Fish statue right inside the palace grounds.

Statue right inside the palace grounds.

According to Professor Kingston’s book, The IHA, or Imperial Household Agency controls their budget and therefore their lives. They can’t go anywhere or do anything without permission first. They have to be extremely thrifty (the emperor drives a 1994 model car) and are even forced to be aloof. They don’t want to be aloof. For example, in the horrific aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake they quietly visited victims in normal clothes and stayed with them for quite sometime. Other Japanese bigwigs and politicians made a big show coming to visit victims and left soon after they arrived. The fact that members of the royal family quietly did this and for an extended period of time, speaks volumes about their character. The Emperor himself has made many attempts to reconcile with Korea. Japanese politicians however, keep screwing it up by making controversial statements by not mentioning comfort women or Japan’s war crimes. Some are just outright denying his claims. I could not even begin to imagine how frustrating this must be for him. In short, the Japanese royal family is made into a soap opera by media attacks and political strife. They are good, honest people from what I have read and they genuinely care about the Japanese people. The aftermath of the 3/11 destruction demonstrates that. If that isn’t benevolent ruling, I don’t know what is.

A cool picture. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.

A cool picture from inside the Palace grounds. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.

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