Imperial family’s rights ‘need to be discussed’

Courtesy of Imperial Household Agency
Princess Mako, left, and Princess Kako take a walk at the Akasaka Estate in Minato Ward, Tokyo, in December.

Extremely dangerous to impose unlimited restrictions, expert says

The announcement came as a shock — “Princess Mako has been suffering so much psychologically that she has developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Takaharu Kachi of the Imperial Household Agency, the top aide to Crown Prince Akishino’s household, announced at a press conference on Oct. 1 that Princess Mako, 29, has been experiencing psychological trauma. Princess Mako is the eldest daughter of the crown prince.

The psychiatrist who diagnosed her, Tsuyoshi Akiyama, explained that her condition was caused by a series of occurrences that she felt defamed herself, the crown prince and his family, her de facto fiance Kei Komuro, 29, and his family.

What she specifically felt to defamation was not explained, but it was said to include reports in weekly magazines and posts on social media.

Princess Mako is not the first Imperial family member who has experienced health problems due to criticism by weekly magazines.

In 1993, Empress Michiko, currently the Empress Emerita, collapsed on her 59th birthday and temporarily lost the ability to speak. Empress Masako fell ill in 2003 when she was crown princess and is still undergoing treatment for adjustment disorder.

The Imperial Household Agency has protested in the past to weekly magazines about articles that were not based on facts.

However, it has said little about articles related to Princess Mako’s marriage, partly because Crown Prince Akishino believes it is impossible to refute all such stories, published one after another. There is also the fact that Komuro and his mother, who have been prominently featured in these magazines, are ordinary citizens. That makes it difficult for the agency to get involved.

About the emotional wounds suffered by the princess, Kachi said: “I fear that we may not have supported her sufficiently. I’m sorry.”

One of the criticisms of Princess Mako’s marriage has been that she seems to put more importance on her private life than her status as a public figure.

In a document released in November, the princess said: “[We are] aware that some people think negatively about our marriage,” while expressing her strong will to marry Komuro. Her younger sister, Princess Kako, has also supported her, saying, “I hope my sister’s wishes as an individual will be fulfilled.”

In contrast, a former schoolmate of the Emperor Emeritus said: “The Imperial family traditionally prioritizes its public duties to serve the people and put its members’ private lives second. But that has changed.”

During their reign, the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita were close to the people, even in their personal lives. They visited areas hit by natural disasters to cheer up affected people, kneeling down in front of them. When rolling blackouts began in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the couple voluntarily limited their use of electricity at the Imperial Palace.

Associate Professor Hajime Sebata at Ryukoku University is a specialist in the modern Imperial system.

“The dedication of the retired emperor and empress to serve the people has led to public support for the Imperial family,” Sebata said. “These days, there is a widening gap between their attitude and that of young Imperial family members who prioritize self-fulfillment. Many people may likely have felt betrayed by the recent developments.”

To what extent must the will and rights of the Imperial family members be respected?

Article 1 of the Constitution stipulates that the Emperor’s position derives “from the will of the people.” Some of the people who oppose Princess Mako’s marriage believe that as the status of other Imperial family members is similar to that of the Emperor, their marriages must also take place with the blessings of the people, which can be called “the will of the people.”

Legally, there is no law that restricts the marriage of female members of the Imperial family. They are granted the fundamental human rights stipulated in the Constitution, which states that “marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.” Crown Prince Akishino approved Princess Mako’s marriage on the basis of this provision.

Katsutoshi Takami, a professor emeritus at Sophia University and an expert in constitutional law, said: “Both the Emperor and other Imperial family members are human beings with their own will. In today’s diversifying society, it is highly dangerous to attempt to restrict without limits the rights of Imperial family members as individual persons, just by citing the phrase ‘the will of the people.’

“We need to discuss the scope of the restrictions, based on the premise that the Emperor and other Imperial family members have human rights.”