Upper House lawmaker Taro Yamamoto, an anti-nuclear activist who was formerly an actor, created a public stir Thursday when he apparently approached Emperor Akihito for political purposes at a garden party hosted by the Imperial Couple in Tokyo.
During the biannual event, where 2,140 celebrities from various fields and policymakers were invited to the Akasaka Imperial Garden, Yamamoto handed a letter to the Emperor, an act that immediately prompted criticism that he might be trying to use the monarch for political purposes, which the Constitution is interpreted to strictly forbid.
Later in the day, Yamamoto reportedly said that he wrote and handed the letter to the Emperor because he wanted him to learn about children exposed to radioactive fallout from the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the horrendous working conditions of those working on the ground.
“I had no intention” to use the Emperor for political purposes, Yamamoto said.
But other lawmakers immediately started questioning Yamamoto’s behavior, prompting the Upper House Steering Committee to convene an urgent meeting to discuss the issue Friday morning.
Since the end of the war, it has been taboo for anyone to include the Emperor in a political agenda, and the monarch himself is not allowed to express any view that could be considered political.
Article 4 of the Constitution is interpreted as allowing the Emperor to only engage in politically neutral state ceremonies.
Yamamoto, who was elected to the Upper House in July, is known for his radical, if not extreme, anti-nuclear arguments, emphasizing the radioactive threat from the Fukushima plant.
According Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Emperor immediately gave the letter to the grand chamberlain, who was accompanying him. It was not immediately known if the Emperor read the letter.
“By using common sense, people should consider if it’s appropriate to give a letter to the Emperor in such an occasion as a garden party,” Suga told a daily press briefing.
The postwar Constitution was enacted to ban the Shinto-influenced militarism of the 1930s and 1940s, in which the Emperor was used by the military as a untouchable living god to keep the people united during the war.
Article 4 states that “the Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution, and he shall not have powers related to government.”