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Lawmaker reprimanded for ‘handing’ over letter to Japan king

The Parliament’s upper house barred Yamamoto from attending events with the imperial family and issued a stern warning.

Written by Associated Press | Tokyo |
November 9, 2013 1:34:27 am

A Novice Japanese lawmaker who wanted to draw attention to the Fukushima nuclear crisis has caused an uproar by doing something taboo,handing a letter to the emperor.

Outspoken actor-turned-lawmaker Taro Yamamoto was reprimanded Friday for breaking a taboo by trying to involve Emperor Akihito in politics when he handed him a letter expressing concern about the health impact of the Fukushima crisis.

The Parliament’s upper house barred Yamamoto from attending events with the imperial family and issued a stern warning,an official said. “Always keep in mind that you are a lawmaker and do nothing to dirty the name of parliament,” ran the warning,media said.

The ruckus began at an annual Imperial Palace garden party last week. As Emperor Akihito and his wife,Michiko,greeted a line of guests,Yamamoto gave the emperor the letter,a gesture considered impolite and inappropriate.

Video of the encounter,repeatedly aired on television,shows the 79-year-old emperor calmly taking the letter,written on a folded “washi” paper with ink and brush,and briefly talking with Yamamoto. An apparently wary Empress Michiko gently pulled her husband’s elbow from behind. The chief steward,who was standing next to Akihito,grabbed the letter the instant the emperor turned to him.

Yamamoto’s action drew criticism from both ends of the ideological spectrum and left many Japanese baffled by what they consider to be a major breach of protocol: reaching out to the emperor in an unscripted act.

The controversy shows how the role of Japan’s emperor remains a sensitive issue,nearly 70 years after Akihito’s father,Emperor Hirohito,renounced his divinity following Japan’s defeat in World War II and became a symbol of the state.

Many conservatives still consider the emperor and his family divine (“the people above the clouds’’) and believe a commoner shouldn’t even talk to him. Decades ago,commoners were not even allowed to directly look at the emperor,but today Akihito does meet with ordinary people,including those in disaster-hit areas in northern Japan.

There is no specific law,but people are not supposed to talk freely to the emperor,touch him or hand him something without permission. Taking a cellphone picture of the emperor or his family also is considered impolite.

Neither Yamamoto nor the palace has released the letter’s contents.

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