Princess Hisako, in what some see as a politically controversial act, will attend an International Olympic Committee general meeting in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7 where the host city of the 2020 Summer Games will be picked.
Hisako, 60, is the widow of Prince Takamado, a cousin of Emperor Akihito. Prince Takamado died in 2002.
Under government request, Hisako will thank the IOC for its support in reconstruction efforts from the Great East Japan Earthquake in a three-minute speech at the beginning of a presentation on Tokyo’s bid to host the Games, the Imperial Household Agency said Sept. 2.
“It was a wrenching decision,” Noriyuki Kazaoka, grand steward of the agency, said. “There are concerns that (Hisako’s attendance) could be seen as part of Tokyo’s bid activities.”
Bid activities have a political aspect because cities from different countries compete for hosting the Olympics. The other candidates for the 2020 Games are Madrid and Istanbul.
Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the emperor “shall not have powers related to government.”
The Imperial Household Agency says imperial family members should not be involved in politics as well.
The Cabinet on Aug. 15 approved plans for Hisako and Princess Akiko, 31, to visit Buenos Aires in September.
Officials said they will engage in casual conversations with IOC members Sept. 5-6 at the hotel where the IOC general meeting will be held and that Hisako will also attend a reception ahead of the gathering.
But the Imperial Household Agency said the two will not be involved in Tokyo’s bid activities and would not attend the IOC general meeting.
According to Kazaoka, sports minister Hakubun Shimomura visited the agency on Aug. 26 and requested Hisako’s attendance at the general meeting.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita also made a similar request on behalf of the prime minister’s office.
Kazaoka said the agency accepted the request on condition that Hisako will not touch on Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Games or wear the bid committee uniform.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were informed of the decision on Aug. 31 after they returned from a retreat in Nagano Prefecture and travels elsewhere.
“I suspect that the emperor and empress are concerned (about the decision),” Kazaoka said.
Takeshi Hara, a professor of history of political thought at Meiji Gakuin University, said: “Imperial family members should be neutral, and using them for political purposes is a violation of the Constitution. There is no question that this development has stronger shades of political exploitation of the imperial family than other imperial overseas trips because there clearly is a political force seeking to have Tokyo host the Olympics.”
Hara said he believes that Hisako’s attendance was decided immediately before the general meeting because the forces pushing Tokyo's Olympic bid are desperate to dispel the negative image of radioactive water leaking at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Isao Ito, a former official of the Japan Sports Association and commentator on Olympics, said there is nothing wrong with imperial family members being involved in Olympic promotions.
He noted that more than 10 of the 100 or so IOC members are members of royalty.
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