KYOTO – When the Imperial family moved to Tokyo at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, after more than a millennium in Kyoto, many in the ancient capital were convinced the Emperor was just embarking on a long visit and would someday return.
Now, more than 140 years later, Kyoto’s top political and business leaders are working to have at least some members of the Imperial family take up residence here again.
The reasons have less to do with romantic dreams of the past and more to do with modern concerns ranging from safety from natural disasters to the strengthening of Kyoto’s role domestically and abroad as the center of traditional Japanese culture.
Earlier this week, Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa and senior business, academic and cultural leaders endorsed a 30-year plan for the future titled “Kyoto Vision 2040,” whose centerpiece is relocating part of the Imperial family to Kyoto.
“When we consider the prosperity of the Imperial Household, we have to ask whether or not it’s good for them to be concentrated in Tokyo. Let’s once again think about the function of the western capital of Kyoto and realize a system with two Imperial capitals,” Yamada said.
The governor, long a vocal proponent of bringing back some members of the Imperial family to Kyoto, noted Japan wouldn’t be the first country whose royals conduct their official duties in more than one location.
“During the summer, Queen Elizabeth II resides in Scotland and performs official duties there. The only other place in Japan with an Imperial Palace outside of Tokyo is Kyoto,” he said.
Last year, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Kyoto and other Kansai government and business leaders expressed concern about what would happen to the Imperial family if a major natural disaster were to strike metropolitan Tokyo.
The seven-prefecture Union of Kansai Governments endorsed a plan to make Kansai a backup capital in the event of a natural disaster in Tokyo, and one of the proposals was to relocate the Imperial family to the region.
Now, however, Kyoto’s political and business leaders are stressing the social and cultural benefits to the city and the Kansai region of having some Imperial family members in Kyoto.
Naoki Hino, a spokesman for the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted their presence would increase interest in Japanese traditional culture, and that Imperial family members in Kyoto could expand their role as traditional cultural ambassadors, which would benefit the area’s tourism industry.
“Having members of the Imperial family in Kyoto would increase international interest in Kyoto as well,” Hino added.
He noted that a host of practical and political issues remain with regard to any relocation effort, and added discussions with the Imperial Household Agency and other government agencies are only in the beginning stage.