A week ago when I described the Emperor and Empress of Japan and their visit to victims of the tragedy that struck their country, I received an informative response from a Japanese friend; a widely-published writer.
My initial impression as a GI during the U.S. occupation of Japan was that until the end of World War II, the American public largely believed that Emperor Hirohito, the ruler of Japan, was to be regarded as a war criminal and should have been hanged for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But the successor to Hirohito, his son Akihito, and wife, the Empress Michiko, proceeded to behave themselves, not only as much more modern than his father but more open to democratic ideas. It illustrated Japan as a burgeoning democracy and noted that the royal couple was symbolic of the change.
It turns out that I was somewhat behind the times in my blog. My friend explained that the Emperor and his wife had visited shelters for the victims of other natural calamities more than ten times, first in 1991. The royal couple had been enthroned in 1989. Michiko is a commoner and a college graduate. Japan, I was told, apparently is so susceptible to earthquakes that it does not receive the kind of foreign news coverage that it did in the recent disaster when an earthquake, a tsunami and dangerous radiation leaks emerged from one of the nearby damaged nuclear power plants not far from the quake's epicenter.
According to Fumiko Mori Halloran, the Emperor and Empress visited shelters on March 30 and April 8th and the Imperial Household Agency announced that the royal couple plans to visit as many shelters as possible without hindering relief efforts. Not only has the couple been briefed in detail, but their children, Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako and his younger brother, Prince Akishino and his wife Kiko have also begun to visit shelters.
At the height of the crisis, the Emperor and Empress opened their hospital to those in need of medical emergency. They also opened their hot bath facilities in their summer palace to a nearby shelter and they sent food "such as thousands of eggs, butter, cheese, other meats and vegetables to nearby shelters. To save electricity, they ordered electricity at the palace be turned off for a few hours every day. They sometimes had dinner under flashlights or candles."
I could go on with details Ms. Halloran said has come from the newspaper, Sankei Shimbun's daily online homepage in Japanese that also reports the imperial family's daily schedule in English. On March 16, the emperor broadcast a video message to appeal to the nation to be united and overcome the national crisis. The newspaper reported that during their visits to shelters the current Crown Prince dressed informally, sat on mats on the floor and talked informally to make the victims feel comfortable.
This remarkable humanitarian effort is a contrast to the image of confusion and indifference by the Japanese government that has permeated some of the foreign reporting throughout the current crisis.