Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"If the prime minister came, we'd all just feel like punching him" -- Emperor and Empress of Japan Visit Earthquake and Tsunami Victims -- Reposted (Thinking of Japan 5)

Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have visited the disaster-stricken town of Asahi in the Tiba prefecture on Thursday.  Asahi, a coastal town of 70,000 residents, suffered a double blow on March 11 when it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami. 13 residents were killed and two went missing. The disaster flattened 900 houses.
MINAMI-SANRIKU, Japan – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Japan's tsunami-battered northeastern coast on Wednesday, offering encouragement to residents who lost homes and loved ones in last month's disaster.

The deeply respected royal couple visited a school gymnasium where 200 people live in the town of Minami-Sanriku, 250 miles (400 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. Excited crowds began gathering almost two hours before their arrival.

"I'm thankful he has come so far. It makes me so happy," said Mitsuko Oikawa, 73, who has been living at the shelter since the tsunami. Her house was washed away by the powerful waves, she said, shaking her head.

"I saw it happen right before my eyes," she said. "It hurts just to think about it."

But the emperor's visit gives her strength, she said.

The royal couple spent about 30 minutes at the gymnasium, speaking to evacuees sitting between stacks of blankets and futons.

They also surveyed the destruction in the seaside town, bowing toward the wreckage to pay their respects to victims.

Last week, they visited Kita-Ibaraki, a port that was ruined by the tsunami, which left about 27,000 people dead and missing and is thought to have caused $305 billion in damage.

Nearly seven weeks after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, some 130,000 people are still living in about 2,500 shelters. The government has promised to build 30,000 temporary homes for them by the end of May and another 70,000 after that.

But volunteer Shin Kageyama, a Yokohama resident who came to Minami-Sanriku to help, said the government seems to be preoccupied with the nuclear accident in Fukushima prefecture and has neglected the humanitarian needs of the region.

While the emperor brought hope and joy to the evacuees, "if the prime minister came, we'd all just feel like punching him," Kageyama said.

"Maybe it's taboo to say this, but the emperor is truly like a god," he added.

Akihito's father Hirohito publicly renounced the idea he was divine after World War II, but the imperial family continues to be widely respected and treated with great deference. Interaction between the royal family and ordinary people is rare.

One teenager who spoke with the emperor on Wednesday was 15-year-old Kazuna Abe. The gym was off-limits to anyone other than evacuees, but she said a friend sneaked her in. Her house was damaged but is still livable, she said.

Akihito, 77, asked about tsunami damage at her high school and told her to stay strong, she said.
"All I could say was 'thank you.' My heart was racing," she said.

"I still can't believe it," she said. "I wonder if it was OK that I took pictures with my cellphone."


  1. Curtis, it's interesting to reflect upon the question of whether the traditional symbolism of royalty, which plainly retains some sustaining meaning for an older generation, can provide any sort of substantial consolation or solace in the face of desolating events and times like these. In a sense your post provides an answer to that question; in another sense, we are left to wonder, ponder the possible historical ironies, and woolgather on into the night.

    I thought perhaps the implication (or "message"?) here might have to do with invoking a comparison between the respective positions vis-a-vis the populace of the royal families of two great old island nations.

    The hackneyed but never completely irrelevant phrase "Where there's life there's hope" did come to mind.

  2. I’m sure I made (unconsciously) the association you mention when I decided to re-post the piece. It’s clear that for the Japanese who are suffering incredible hardships, the appearance of these essentially magical figures in their midst does offer consolation and I think it’s terrific that Akihito and Michiko journeyed to see them. The pull-quote about the temporal leadership I selected for the headline is one I expected and is entirely understandable. Last week, when I posted a couple of “royal wedding specials”, pulling some pages from 20th century history, a friend asked me (to my surprise) whether I was in favor of monarchy or against it. As someone raised in the US, I would say that I am unalterably opposed to it, but for obvious reasons I find it to be an incredibly interesting part of history. The UK royals have slipped so far down it’s really hard to believe it and I’ve been astonished on a number of occasions when British people I’ve worked with have asserted that they only retain the monarchy for the benefit of American tourists. That’s clearly silly and insincere and the statements are usually uttered in the vicinity of the dismissive phrase “you Americans”, which is clearly sincere, but also silly and rude. (It’s ok – I like these people, but I've never said "You __________" about any other nationality.) I do find it fascinating that the current queen has apparently been privy to every interesting bit of world information, as well as state secrets, for 60 years and I thought she showed real star quality (much better than Helen Mirren) when she was finally forced to address the issue of Princess Diana’s death on television, saying (through gracefully clenched teeth – hard to do) that “no one who knew Diana could ever forget her.” The erstwhile mother-in-law double-entendre was hard to miss. Still, for the couple getting married this week, one wishes them luck and happiness, as I always hope for people getting married. It can be the greatest blessing and certainly can help you along your way to achieve the things you might want to. And maybe they'll find a way to help others during their time together. Curtis

  3. As an Englishman and a monarchist, I respect these wise and nuanced comments. The British Royal Family's engagement with the modern media in the 1990s/2000s degraded them, as it degraded everyone else, but the depth of its roots in the soil of England is hard to overestimate, and it has shown some skill in recovering its position. Monarchy is a very human institution, as it represents a human and metaphorical, even artistic, expression of the nation. The US is politically a more monarchical state than the UK - George III would be much more at home in the White House than in 10 Downing Street - so the differences between the two constitutions should not be exaggerated.

  4. Thomas -- Thank you for your very nice note. I hope you visit here again soon. Curtis

  5. As one who dwelt in your country for five years in the 1960s, Thomas, I learned to appreciate and respect its many cultural mysteries and this one we're talking about was probably the greatest. But as far as I could then or now understand, for better or worse, the iconoclasm of 1649 ended for good and all whatever real power the monarchy was ever going to be able to exert. Sympathy for it is one thing, the usefulness of it quite another. Symbolism, well... that media degradation which degraded the royal family was also degrading everything and everyone else apace, and continues to do so right down to this minute. The only royal for whom I can confess any abiding affection at this point is the epileptic Price John, whose sad short life seems to epitomize in a nutshell everything beautiful, delicate, fragile, wonderful and hopeless about that particular royal line.

    And about that infamous tea in the water business, how regrettable really, look at the demagogic nonsense it has latterly spawned. Almost heading toward a blackshirt level, truly embarrassing.

  6. Yes -- right down to this minute. I may actually get up to watch tomorrow's wedding, but for me "getting up" is more a "term of art", as lawyers are wont to say, than an actual event. I sleep with one eye open; it means moving rooms, really. In 1981, the wedding of Charles and Diana occurred between the two days of the NY bar exam. It was impossible to sleep then because of nerves, so watching the spectacle was enjoyable and diverting. This time around feels, in terms of the way the event is being promoted on US tv, distinctly second-hand, but I'm hoping the BBC feed may provide something more worthwhile. As I said, I will be up and later heading to Avalon, which in our lives means a place on the southern New Jersey shore, not an Arthurian island. (It is an island, however; we'll also be visiting Wagsworh Manor, during the day, but that's merely a Pennsylvania kennel where the dogs will spend the weekend.) Caroline will reunite for a spell with her 1971 high school classmates and Jane and I will fly kites on the beach and feed birds with sticky buns. Know what you mean about Prince John, by the way. A beautiful child. Curtis

  7. TC, I too lived in England for 5 years in the 60s. I was a little boy -- it was perhaps the happiest time of a bumpy childhood -- and as such learned about the royal family at the right time. The catholic philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe once said there's no point in trying to teach an adult about transubstantiation, you have to be a child in order to understand. The wisdom of this remark -- which looked fatuous at first -- grows on me with time. Like Curtis, I am politically opposed in the strongest possible terms to a monarchy, but I see the power of what Thomas rightly calls a form of artistic expression. I watched a bit of the ceremony this morning, and took pleasure in my ability to pinpoint the parade within my own internal map of London, and to dream, as I've dreamt so many times, of myself flying (like one of this morning's cameras) over St James's Park and the palace, then down the King's Road past Sloane Square, and so to what was once home.