A new Upper House member is in hot water for handing a letter to Emperor Akihito on Oct. 31 at a biannual imperial garden party expressing his anti-nuclear concerns, an action his colleagues say constitutes the political exploitation of the emperor.
The Upper House steering committee on Nov. 1 summoned Taro Yamamoto, an actor-turned-lawmaker who campaigned as an independent in the July election on abandoning nuclear power, for questioning about the incident. The committee is scheduled to hold an executive meeting on Nov. 5 to decide how to deal with the junior lawmaker.
“I think we have to impose some sort of punishment on him,” said Toshiei Mizuochi, a committee head executive from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
After the hearing, Yamamoto told reporters that he will accept whatever punishment the committee imposes, because he, in fact, broke a tacit rule even though it was unintentional.
He also blamed the media for overblowing the incident.
“Because the media made too big a fuss over the issue, what I did has become political exploitation,” Yamamoto said. “If I had intended to use (the emperor) for political purposes, I would have disclosed the contents of the letter, but I haven't.
"I, as an individual, only wanted to tell the emperor the truth about the health hazard posed to children and the workers who are exposed to radiation and being abandoned (at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant).”
At the garden party, Yamamoto handed the letter to the emperor, asking, “Could you read my letter?”
Saying nothing, the emperor accepted the letter and handed it to the grand chamberlain, who was standing next to him, according to Yamamoto.
“I wanted to explain the plight of children exposed to radiation released after a nuclear accident (at the Fukushima plant) and people who are working at the facility in the worst conditions,” Yamamoto told reporters later that day.
"From a common sense point of view, handing a letter to His Majesty may be rude. However, even though it is, I could not contain my desire to have him understand what is happening," the lawmaker said.
But the fresh-faced politician came under heavy fire immediately, because his action is seen as inappropriate to the formal occasion and may conflict with a stipulation of the Constitution that bans the political exploitation of the emperor.
Chapter 1 of the Constitution states that “the emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power,” as well as that “he shall not have powers related to government.”
“His behavior obviously constituted a breach of the Constitution,” said Masashi Waki, the LDP’s secretary-general in the Upper House, on Nov. 1. “He should take responsibility to prevent a recurrence.”
Another LDP executive said Yamamoto should resign from the Diet.
“What he did merits his resignation as a lawmaker,” said education minister Hakubun Shimomura. “Allowing that action to go unpunished means allowing all people to hand letters directly to His Majesty at various events and ceremonies. That was nothing but political exploitation.”
The emperor and empress invite about 2,000 guests twice a year in spring and fall to gatherings at Akasaka Imperial Gardens in Tokyo to be able to meet and talk with leading figures of the nation.
Such guests include the speakers of both parliament chambers, the prime minister, Cabinet members, other lawmakers, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, local government leaders, and prominent figures in various fields, such as culture, arts and social activities.
Junior Diet members are more likely to be invited than veteran lawmakers, according to sources.
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