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Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004
Emperor gets it right, but his staffers get it wrong
The Imperial Household Agency was miffed last weekend when the Asahi Shimbun "scooped" the rest of the media in reporting that Princess Nori was engaged to Yoshiki Kuroda, an employee of the Tokyo metropolitan government. The original plan was to make the official announcement on Nov. 9, but the Emperor felt it would be inconsiderate to the victims of the recent typhoons and earthquakes. They decided to postpone the happy news until late December, but the Asahi jumped the gun. Consequently, the rest of the media had to cover the non-announcement as well.
Since the IHA reported that it was the Imperial family who decided on the postponement, it thought it could vilify the press without making itself look like the wet blanket it usually resembles. The Emperor, of course, was exercising jishuku (self-restraint), because it's considered bad form to celebrate something in the midst of a larger tragedy.
However, the Emperor didn't actually say the rest of the nation should also exercise jishuku. That would also be in bad form. However, the IHA's attitude seems to indicate that if the media is supposed to restrain itself, it's assumed that everyone must. Nevertheless, the public is delighted with the news, which isn't surprising since it's the media that's reporting the delight and the media like nothing better than to thumb their noses at the IHA, whose adherence to formality is so humorless as to be hilarious.
Even citizens who agree that self-restraint is warranted in such situations aren't necessarily going to say so out loud. One wonders, for instance, why no one complained about baseball star Daisuke Matsuzaka when he held a press conference on Oct. 29 to announce that he and Nihon TV announcer Tomoyo Shibata had registered their marriage. Coming as it did only six days after the first killer temblor hit parts of Niigata prefecture, wasn't Matsuzaka failing to exercise proper jishuku, especially since he knew that his announcement would be the biggest non-earthquake-related human interest story reported that week?
Matsuzaka's feelings toward Shibata have been obvious since they met when he was a 19-year-old rookie. As a matter of fact, the couple have been living together since June, so the announcement was only a formality. It was carried out on Oct. 29 simply because Matsuzaka's team, the Seibu Lions, had just won the Japan Series. If we are to take the concept of jishuku seriously, shouldn't he have waited a bit longer so as not to hurt the feelings of the victims of the quake?
Apparently not. Or maybe he didn't care. Maybe nobody cared. Daisuke Matsuzaka is not the Emperor, but he does have people looking out for his reputation and surely they must have thought about the jishuku thing.
You can be sure Asahi Shimbun thought of it in Princess Nori's case. They thought so much about it, in fact, that they carried out a pre-emptive strike. Asahi reporters in Niigata actually asked evacuees temporarily living in gymnasiums and tents what they thought about the engagement and the paper printed the responses just as the IHA was making its complaint.
"When I heard the news, it was as if [Princess Nori] suddenly became a beautiful woman," said one 54-year-old man whose carp-raising business had been totally destroyed. "Everyone has been depressed by the earthquake," a 68- year-old housewife told the paper, "but this news is very healing." A 41-year-old mechanic said, "[The news] gives me power to welcome the New Year."
Naturally, anyone who didn't care about the engagement or who might have felt that self-restraint is the way to go wasn't included in this parade of quotes. The advantage of being the bearer of news is that you can bear the news you want to bear. The IHA can't beat the Asahi at its own game.
But the agency can still browbeat the media about another matter, namely Kuroda himself. Please be nice, the IHA said to the reporters, and don't "cause trouble for people around the princess's intended fiance."
No use. TV crews and photographers mobbed the front of Kuroda's home in Shibuya last Sunday morning waiting for a statement. Kuroda, whose use of convoluted keigo ( polite speech) indicated he's probably spent way too much time around noble types, toed the IHA line and told the reporters that he would "refrain" from talking about the engagement, but of course he did. When you have 100 journalists shouting at you it's difficult to refuse.
"What does the princess mean to you?" asked one reporter. The man from Mainichi Shimbun wrote that he then noticed Kuroda's face "relax a little," and took it to mean that he was imagining Princess Nori's lovely visage. Talk about subjective reporting.
This romantic angle was difficult to take seriously -- we're talking about a couple who have probably only met face-to-face a handful of times. But such sentiments have their uses. Wide-show pundits projected that the engagement will encourage more people to get married -- not a frivolous prediction, apparently, since wedding-related companies suddenly saw a swift up-tick in their stock prices.
So why are the royal handlers so grumpy? The Emperor gets credit for exercising self-restraint, the media gets a big fluffy news story, the people of Niigata get some welcome happy news, and the country in general feels good about itself. Only the Imperial Household Agency is upset, pouting in the corner because nobody takes them seriously.