Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It's A Boy!

I'm sure all of you have been anxiously following the drama of the Japanese Imperial family, Japan's original reality TV show. Unlike the British royal family, who work extremely hard to provide the public with a fresh turnover of drama and scandals, with occasionally moments of unbelievable weirdness and irony (Lady Di, literally chased to death by paparazzi), the Imperial Family mostly just deals in slow, sadistic, tragedy.

I have pretty much next to no interest in the petty little novels of royal succession and imperial weddings, but they force themselves on me anyway, leading off news broadcasts, the disembodied face of Princess Masako flapping from a tabloid advertisement on my train to work. I mean, I guess I know the outlines of the story. Harvard educated Princess Masako giving up her promising career as a diplomat in order to marry Crown Prince Naruhito, she is unable to produce a male heir, grows depressed and reclusive. She has a baby girl, Aiko, who is the cutest little princess ever. Maybe just cute enough to become... Empress!

Can a girl really do that? Let's forget the fact that girls were empressing all over the place in the 8th century ordering deaths of their enemies, consolidating power; does a girl really have what it takes to be a meaningless, powerless icon in the 21st century? I have a first hand account of the daily rigors that a modern day emperor must endure. My buddy Jolyon is currently in Tokyo doing research on modern Japanese religions, and the emperor pays his rent. To say thanks, he and a few other scholarship winners put on their Sunday best, combed their hair, pulled back their dredlocks, and sat down to drink tea with a living god. While Jolyon and the others nodded, gave brief little descriptions of their research, offered thanks for the rent money and smiled for the cameras, one girl decided her research could not be adequately summarized in a brief response, launching into a twenty minute lecture while Jolyon, the students, the god and his wife clenched their teacups and waited for her to shut the fuck up. But, being an earthly diety, Akihito withstood the onslaught, smiled politely and thanked her for coming. Could a girl be trusted with responsibilities like these?

One hundred and fifty years ago over half the country had never heard of the emperor, they were up to their knees in the mud planting rice so they could pay their local taxes. One hundred years ago the emperor was an oil painting, scowling with through his beard and his Prussian military uniform, chest puffy with medals and gold braid. Eighty-five years ago they didn’t really publicize the emperor too much: he was mildly retarded. Sixty-five years ago his name was on the lips of battalions marching through every corner of the Eastern hemisphere, his portrait in the front of every school room, staring dumb at the millions who repeatedly chanted praises. Fifteen years later, his job (and his neck) spared by the American occupation he shook hands with his beloved childhood friend, America’s Prince: Mickey Mouse. Who knows what havoc a girl might wreak on this hallowed institution?

This is the question that has gripped many of Japan’s best minds for the past year or so, newspaper editorials sounding for and against the idea. Practical minded moderates proposed retracing the imperial line down to some weird cousin. Some conservatives pushed the old “Just conceive through a concubine!” route. Some saucy liberals suggested that maybe we could just let that cute little Princess Aiko be empress, but only her! The rest should be guys! Let’s not get out of hand here. The thuggy far right wingers soon took up the “Males Only!” stance, the message booming from loudspeakers on the black vans draped in Rising Sun Flags. The Crown Prince’s younger brother (winner of the I’m Still In Japan Lamest-Facial-Hair-On-A-Japanese-Public-Figure Award) publicly criticized his sister-in-law: “She is failing her sacred duty to conceive!” Prime Minister Koizumi convened a special commission to look into the issue. Japan’s intellectual climate was whipped into a froth of debating and politicking: Who will be our next Homecoming King and Queen? The country waited with bated breath. Families chewed dinner through the evening news, then Dad flipped the channel to see if “Police Inspector Tamura!” was a repeat this week. Princess Masako smiled through the headaches, wondering why she had given up her diplomatic career to have an entire nation speculate on the condition of her fucking womb.

Well, Princess Masako and the rest of us can take a big sigh of relief, because, like the title said: “It’s a boy!” As usual I wasn’t exactly waiting on this news, it had to walk up and grab me. I was hurrying to work in the Ginza district of Tokyo when I had to wade through packs of camera crews picking off telegenic pedestrians. They usually don’t come out to hunt until noon, getting street interviews from office workers on lunch break and little old ladies laden with department store shopping bags. Ginza is a good area for interviews. The sidewalks are wide, the buildings look good on the screen, the people have enough money and they’ll say nice bland things for the tv. I had always felt safe as a loping and conspicuously non-Japanese pedestrian, but all bets were off the this morning: god had been born, and god was a boy. One of the reporters picked me off, and once my ability to understand and answer questions had been confirmed we launched into the first episode of Jamie: Japanese Pundit.

Q: So, are you familiar with the imperial succession issue?

A: Umm, yes.

Q: Did you know that their Imperial Highnesses Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko had conceived a child nine months ago?

A: Oh, the younger brother? Actually… no, I didn’t.

Q: Well, this morning that child was born! (Voice twinkling with excitement.)

A: Huh.

Q: Do you know what the gender of the Imperial Child turned out to be?

A: …

Q: It’s a boy! What do you think about that?

A: Well… I don’t know, I’ve always wondered what the problem with a having a female Empress is. Actually, to tell you the truth, I don’t really understand what the big deal is.

Q: Thank you so very much for your time!

By noon, everyone at work had heard I’d been on television, and they wanted to know where they could catch the first episode of Jamie: Japanese Pundit.

“I don’t know, I forgot to ask the guy what station he was. Was worried about being late.”

“Well, they probably won’t use you anyway. Just a string of old ladies saying ‘Oh, isn’t that nice...’”


Zoe and Craig said...

It is a shame a boy was born. I was hoping a girl would become Empress and help revolutionise Japan's women's rights. That still might happen, though, right? Or is it certain that the boy will become Emperor?
Good to hear the story of Jolyon's meeting with the Emperor. Was wondering how that went.

rachel said...

Really entertaining post. Althought does that mean I'm one of those freako royal family groupies? No. It's the satire I'm enjoying. And also the cute little princess who could be Empress. That baby boy just stopped a new Disney movie...

Teletext Flights said...

Women have ruled many countries and empires for thousands of years.