GAKUSHUIN MUST RESTORE RESPECT FOR MEMBERS OF IMPERIAL FAMILY
Japan’s era name will officially change from “Heisei” to “Reiwa” on May 1 as the new emperor ascends the Chrysantrhemum Throne. What kind of an era are the new emperor and empress hoping to help create, and what type of an imperial couple do they wish to be?
While pondering these questions, I came across a book published nearly two decades ago, entitled Education of Prince Hironomiya by Motohide Osakabe (Asuka-Shinsha, Tokyo; 2001). (Crown Prince Naruhito, who will ascend to the throne on May 1, was called by this title when young.) A friend told me it was a must read in order to understand what type of education Naruhito received as a young student to prepare for his future reign at Gakushuin (Peer’s School) in Tokyo.
Academic credentials from Gakushuin aren’t enough for members of the imperial family, especially for the crown prince foreordained to succeed the throne. The pertinent point to ponder is whether he has acquired the essential mental preparedness as a future emperor through specific studies required for him. I read the book to learn whether the young prince received the education required of a man of his position, and what type of a place of learning Gakushuin was for him.
Teaching at Gakushuin High School for 23 years until 1997, Osakabe (1932-2016) served as the teacher in charge of Naruhito’s class 1976-79.
In the book’s introduction the author relates a revealing anecdote about the directory of the school’s parents’ association, citing a conversation he had with a thirty year old alumnus of the high school.
“The alumunus asked me: ‘Does the first page of the current directory still list the names of members of the imperial family who are enrolled at this school? During my student days, some classmate tore off that page.’
‘It’s all the same,’ I replied. ‘Nothing has changed.’
He then asked disparagingly: ‘Does the directory still say ‘gozaigaku’ (a polite expression indicating that members of the imperial family are indeed enrolled)?’
‘Yes, indeed,’ I nodded helplessly.”
From the above exchange I sensed an attitude of disapproval and aversion towards the imperial family on the part of Osakabe and the alumnus.
Preoccupied with Soviet’s Position
Osakabe has this to say as regards club and homeroom activities at the high school:
“Classroom activities were constrained in obvious or not so obvious ways due to his (Crown Prince Naruhito’s) presence. This was never beneficial to the prince himself, or his classmates.”
Stress inevitably resulting from the fact that the prince’s classmates had to constantly share the same space and time with the future emperor could have certainly caused some constraints. But I believe that, while subjecting the teacher and the students to considerable stress, this situation should have been viewed positively as a rare opportunity in which to learn many things. But Osakabe continues:
“To put it simply, the constraints were attributable to the particular privileges Naruhito has as given prerogatives. I was beginning to become convinced that, while this peculiarity could work either for or against Naruhito himself, it worked against him more often than not.”
Members of the imperial family, from the emperor down, are entitled to certain prerogatives but do not have the right to demand that the entire nation take that for granted. They in turn do not have the freedom of job selection or political opinions. Is it then proper to judge their privileges as happily “given”? How can one arbitrarily determine the crown prince’s prerogatives as detrimental to “him as a person”? I seriously question this.
In Osakabe’s appraisal of the prince’s position, one discerns no earnest love of his pupil or any zeal to give his full attention to him as his teacher. Gakushuin High School pupils must engage in group swimming practices involving one to five kilometers of swimming per group at a stretch. Osakabe observes:
“I don’t remember how Prince Hironomiya fared as a swimmer that summer. This is largely because I had already ceased to be his homeroom teacher. But I presume that as swimming goes, he was perhaps neither that good nor that bad…just average.”
Another section of the book referring to a compilation of essays marking the graduation of Naruhito and his classmates from
Gakushin Middle School, troubled me. Noting that only one of the essays was dedicated to Naruhito, Osakabe writes: “Well-balanced as a person, Naruhito has a modest and reserved personality. Underneath the cloak of his imperial prerogatives, his classmates must have been at a loss how to size up his real personality…I suppose that in the first place Naruhito lacked the personal impact prompting his classmates to write about him…” In this aloof and indifferent observation, I must admit that I fail to sense any love for Naruhito on the part of Osakabe as his homeroom teacher.
Emperor Hirohito, Naruhito’s grandfather, had an American English tutor named Elizabeth Vining brought all the way from the US to work with Prince Akihito, Naruhito’s father. And yet, despite this and other private tutoring, Akihito had some close classmates at Gakushuin. One gets the impression from this book that Naruhito had no such friends. There appears to have been no select group of scholars giving him the knowledge necessary to become a good emperor. How then could Naruhito mature into an emperor capable of uniting we Japanese people? No wonder the significance of Gakushuin as the school for the peers has been waning over the years.
In the last chapter of his book, Osakabe introduces a list of remarks and writings concerning the imperial family. On top of the list is former president of Tokyo University Shigeru Nanbara. A staunchly liberal political scientist, Nanbara in 1951 unequivocally demanded that the Soviet Union be included in a “comprehensive” peace treaty to formally end World War II. Osakabe lauds as “epoch-making” an address Nanbara delivered at the House of Peers in December 1946 entitled “On the Emperor’s ‘Humanity Declaration’ and Promulgation of A New Constitution.”
Cold-Hearted View of Imperial System
Nanbara addressed the imperial edict issued on January 1, 1946, which included the imperial declaration. Hirohito later explained what he truly intended to convey to the people more than his humanity declaration played up by the media, was that great values such as democracy and freedom, which the people were beginning to believe were taught by foreign powers as a result of Japan’s defeat in the last war, had actually been deeply rooted in Japan and that they were reflected in the five-article Charter Oath promulgated by Emperor Meiji in 1868 as the basic principles of governance of the new government.
Osakabe’s description of Nanbara’s assertions as “epoch-making” is wide off the mark no matter how one looks at it.
Osakabe also makes a special note which I utterly disagree with. He claims that “Five Shaku of Sake,” a 1947 work by the left-wing novelist Shigeharu Nakano, leads to this thinking: “The nation cannot be revolutionarily liberated from its semi-feudal conditions without revolutionarily liberating the emperor from this shamefully decadent imperial system.”
Another work Osakabe refers to is one composed by left-wing poet Tatsuji Miyoshi, out of which he quoted the following portion as “compelling”:
“After all, we don’t care what will happen to the emperor. We are least concerned whether or not the imperial system will continue eternally in its present form. We don’t care how the situation may actually evolve around the former living god, who just switched to human status under a new provision—or whether or not he will revert to his old status. All told, whatever happens to the imperial system there is a basic indifference towards this whole matter in the back of the minds of those of us peculiar human beings in the literary world of this country.”
Osakabe’s references clearly point to how he himself views the imperial family. He states in the postscript: “I had a feeling of strangeness of sorts towards the imperial family when I was put in charge of the class that included Prince Hironomiya at Gakushuin High School.”
More evident than anything else in the above remarks are the values of Osakabe himself, who identifies with those who could care less about the emperor or the imperial family. I cannot but feel extremely sorry for the soon to be emperor for having had to learn how to become a good emperor in such a hostile environment.
Now is the time for all Japanese to firmly understand that without our full support and affection, the continuity of the imperial family cannot be expected. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 850 in the May 3-9 issue of The Weekly Shincho)