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Are candid photos of the Imperial couple off limits?

J-cast

A high school girl in Tochigi Prefecture uploaded to her Twitter account a photo of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who visited the prefecture on a personal trip, sparking debate on whether or not she should have done it.

Many praised the photo for capturing the natural smiles of the royal couple, but her actions were also criticized for being “inappropriate” and a “possible violation of ’portrait rights.’ ”

An Imperial ‘two shot’

The Emperor and Empress took the shinkansen on May 21 for an overnight trip to visit places in connection with the environmental disaster at the Ashio Copper Mine in Tochigi.

In addition to the accredited media The Imperial visit was covered by reporters from newspapers and television stations. Additionally, many passersby took photos with their smart phones and uploaded them to the web.

Comments attached to uploaded photos included: “The Emperor came to Tochigi Station!”; “The Emperor looked at me and waved!”; “I met the Emperor and Empress at the station nearest to my house! I was so surprised”; and “I saw the Emperor and Empress. Lots of police were there.”

Photos of the Imperial couple were all over the web.

Among them, the most discussed on Twitter was one uploaded by a high school girl with the comment, “The Emperor was at Oyama Station. I took the best shot.”

The photo captured the royal couple from a short distance as they were looking directly into the camera. The Emperor was smiling and waving with the Empress at his side.

Online reactions included: “Wow, they were nice to regular people, looking right into the camera”; “I have never seen the Emperor and Empress with such beautiful smiles in media photos” and “The Emperor waving at a mobile phone camera is something you can talk about for the rest of your life. Unbelievable.”

However, some comments were not so positive. They included: “Don’t you know your actions showed a lack of common sense?”; “Please have more respect for the Emperor. I’m ashamed to be Japanese” and “Uploading on Twitter is a violation of portrait rights.”

Following the negative reactions, the girl changed her Twitter account status to private, but the photo kept being retweeted.

Imperial Household Agency: We don’t restrict photography

Regarding portrait rights, Kunihisa Ishii of Kakui Law Office said “it would be unlikely to be an infringement of portrait rights” if, for example, the prime minister’s photo were taken and uploaded on the Internet, even if he was on a personal trip.

“Freedom of expression would supercede (portrait rights). The same goes for infringement of human rights. It would be different if a photo were taken in a hotel room or other private place. But if a famous person is in a public place, it would be interpreted as tacit permission to take photos,” Ishii said.

“Even if there is no permission to post photos publicly, it is likely the courts would recognize it as being for the public benefit,” he said.

The Imperial Household Agency does not restrict people from uploading photos of the Imperial family on the Internet as long as they are uploaded to blogs for personal use, an agency official said.

This is an abridged translation of a story that was first published on May 26 on J-CAST News, a Tokyo-based news site established in 2006.