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Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako are struggling to establish ways to carry out their roles under restrictions posed by the coronavirus epidemic.

The imperial couple’s outings have mostly been to and from the Imperial Palace recently, with all of their key regular domestic trips canceled this year, including one to attend the annual National Sports Festival.

The Imperial Household Agency has posted on its website the couple’s remarks made during briefings, including by a noted coronavirus expert, at the Akasaka Imperial Residence, where the couple lives.

With their public exposure limited so far since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, some pundits are calling for the agency to use social media more actively to disseminate information on the couple, as some foreign royal families do.

Emperor Naruhito, who ascended to the throne in May last year to mark the start of the Reiwa Era, “has properly performed the Imperial rituals designated by Emperor Emeritus Akihito as duties of the emperor, the symbol of Japan,” said Takeshi Hara, a professor at the Open University of Japan.

“But so far, he has not been able to go on any of the regional trips” designated as the Emperor’s duties, said Hara, who teaches the history of Japanese political thought.

Hara senses a major difference in style between the current Emperor and his father, whose abdication ended the Heisei Era in April last year.

A picture released by the agency shows Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako sitting side by side as they attended a briefing by experts, Hara said.

The picture “seems to portray them as complete equals, instead of showing the Empress as subordinate to the Emperor,” he said, adding that the picture appears to have been set up that way intentionally.

“If the couple releases a video message on the novel coronavirus and the two appear side by side, the difference from Heisei would become even clearer,” Hara said.

Kanto Gakuin University professor Naotaka Kimizuka, an expert on royal families around the world, is concerned about the lack of direct messages from the couple about the pandemic, noting that foreign royalty, including Queen Elizabeth II, have delivered speeches to their people.

“Governments anywhere may put their own countries first, but royal families can deal with world-scale problems, including the global environment,” Kimizuka said, stressing that the coronavirus crisis seems to be a perfect issue for the imperial family.

“Pictures and videos are uploaded on social media almost every day by public relations officials of royal families abroad, and they are well-received,” Kimizuka said.

“Just uploading messages on the Imperial Household Agency’s website isn’t enough,” he continued, emphasizing that social media should be used more actively especially at this time, because messages can be sent without meeting people.

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