Press Release

A letter from the Imperial Household Agency

Mr. Ben Hills

Random House Australia

1 February 2007

Dear Mr. Hills,

I am writing to you in connection with your book, "Princess Masako--Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne."

A veteran newspaper reporter who has covered the Imperial Family for many years read this book and wrote that he noticed so many inaccuracies that "almost every page seems to contain an error." Also, from a more substantive point of view, the government became alarmed to see how distorted a picture of the Imperial Family this book draws and is trying to determine what steps they can take about it. In the meantime, as someone who works for Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress by their side, I would like to focus on a passage in the book which is directly related to them and totally wrong from a factual point of view.

In Chapter seven of this book, you write that, "The Emperor is said to have more than 1000 engagements a year,-----, though all are undemanding formal appearances at uncontroversial events." and go on to conclude that, "It would be inconceivable for the Japanese royals to be associated with anything as controversial as Princess Diana's championing of ----- the Leprosy Mission."

Here, you completely ignore the fact that Their Majesties have been very much involved in leprosy, or Hansen's disease, over the past forty years. There are thirteen national sanatoriums for Hansen's disease all over Japan, and Their Majesties have visited nine of them in the prefectures of Aomori, Gunma, Tokyo, Okayama, Kagoshima and Okinawa(two sanatoriums each in the last three prefectures). The first such visit took place in 1968 when, as Crown Prince and Princess, they went to a sanatorium on Amami-oshima island in Kagoshima prefecture and most recently they called on two sanatoriums in Okayama prefecture in 2005.

When they visited these sanatoriums, they sat down with the patients, held their hands and shared the agony they suffered from their illness, social discrimination and prejudice. They also talked to the administrators, doctors and nurses who looked after the patients to express their appreciation for their hard work.

At the end of their visit to one of the two sanatoriums in Okinawa prefecture in 1975, the patients sent them off with a traditional farewell song of Okinawa, and later sent them some poems to convey their gratitude for the visit. The Emperor reciprocated their sentiments by sending them his own poem composed in the form of traditional Okinawan short verse (He studied classical literature of Okinawa, as a part of his effort to understand the ordeal of the people of Okinawa which was the only prefecture where ground battle was fought during the last world war and the U.S. administration continued thereafter until 1972). When they visited Takamatsu city in Kagawa prefecture in 2004, patients came to the city from a sanatorium on a small island off its coast and met Their Majesties. In 2005, on their visit to Okayama prefecture, they spent almost a whole day visiting two sanatoriums on an island one after another.

The Empress has invited the administrative heads of the three sanatoriums whose patients Their Majesties have not been able to meet, and learned from them the current situation of their respective institutions. Also, when a report was commissioned by the government to critically review the past government policy of isolating the Hansen's disease patients from the society, the Empress took time, after it was published, to invite and hear about the report from an expert who was involved in writing it.

Although they always carried out their work in this field with discretion, all these facts concerning the involvement of Their Majesties in the Hansen's disease were reported in media and well recorded. They can be known easily with a most elementally research.

You are of the view that "all" of the engagements of the Emperor "are undemanding formal appearances at uncontroversial events." But, for example, when Their Majesties visited Okinawa as Crown Prince and Princess in 1975, left-wing radicals who opposed the visit threw bottle grenades at them at close range. They, however, continued with the visit without a single change in their schedule. In 1995, soon after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake which was the worst natural disaster after the last world war, they flew to the stricken areas, both on the mainland and on the island of Awaji, and went around the school gymnasiums and other places where those who lost their homes took shelter, thus spending the whole day with them. In 1994, one year prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the last world war, they flew to Iwojima island to pray for the fallen soldiers, both Japanese and American. In 2005, to commemorate the sixtieth year after the end of the war, they went to the island of Saipan in the Pacific where also fierce battle took place, and prayed, under the blazing sun, at war memorials for Japanese, American, Korean and local war dead as well as the cliffs where a large number of women and children threw themselves off at the end of the war.

In the area of social welfare in general, they have been constant for all these forty-seven years in giving encouragement and consolation to those who suffer from difficulties. They have visited more than four hundred welfare facilities for the physically or mentally handicapped, the elderly or infants in all of the prefectures in Japan. They have also visited a variety of welfare facilities in other countries, including Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium for the Paralyzed and other Disabled in England in 1976, the German town of Bethel in 1993, where a number of welfare facilities are concentrated and the residents protected the handicapped throughout the Nazi period, as well as the National Center for Disability Services in the United States in 1994. In your own country, Australia, the Empress visited Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital in 1973.

If all of what the Emperor and Empress do were meaningless formalities, as you seem to imply, why more than seventy-five percent of people constantly support the Imperial Family as it is in public opinion polls? Also, why tens of thousands of local people are willing to come out to welcome the Emperor and Empress along the roads they take wherever they go in the country?

I would like to ask for your response on what I wrote above, at least on the issue of the Imperial involvement in Hansen's disease where facts are quite clear.


Makoto Watanabe
Grand Chamberlain to His Majesty the Emperor