Japan crown prince Naruhito: Champion of reforming sedate royal life

Japanese Emperor Akihito (front row, third from left) and Empress Michiko (front row, fourth from left) with their family members (front row, from far left) Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito and his brother Prince Akishino, Prince Hisahito
Japanese Emperor Akihito (front row, third from left) and Empress Michiko (front row, fourth from left) with their family members (front row, from far left) Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito and his brother Prince Akishino, Prince Hisahito and Princess Kiko and (back row, from left) Princess Aiko, Princess Mako and Princess Kako.PHOTO: REUTERS

Crown Prince Naruhito, who is the next in line to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne, is one of the fiercest critics of the cloistered monarchy institution he belongs to.

The 56-year-old Oxford University alumnus has an independent personality at odds with the rigid lifestyle that is imposed on royals by the bureaucratic Imperial Household Agency.

In one of their most documented spats, he accused his minders of causing his wife, Crown Princess Masako, to suffer a stress- related illness.

PHYSICAL CONSTRAINTS

As I am now more than 80 years old and there are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness, in the last few years I have started to reflect on my years as the Emperor, and contemplate on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come.

EMPEROR AKIHITO

WHAT'S BEST FOR COUNTRY

It was some years ago, after my two surgeries, that I began to feel a decline in my fitness level because of my advancing age, and I started to think about the pending future, how I should conduct myself should it become difficult for me to carry out my heavy duties in the way I have been doing, and what would be best for the country, for the people, and also for the Imperial Family members who will follow after me.

EMPEROR AKIHITO

BURDEN OF THE JOB

Considering the Emperor's duties, as well as his age and the burden (of the job), we have to firmly look at what we can do.

PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE

His father, Emperor Akihito, was the first monarch in a long bloodline extending 2,500 years to marry a commoner, and the Crown Prince did likewise when he married the former diplomat in 1993.

In 2004, he went public with his displeasure at the agency for stopping him and his wife from travelling overseas.

The agency had felt that the Crown Princess' primary duty was to produce an heir to the throne.

They have a daughter, Princess Aiko, now 14, but the antiquated Imperial Household Law allows only males to inherit the throne.

Naruhito later apologised, but he also called for "new royal duties" befitting the 21st century.

Also like his father, the first peacetime monarch, he has urged Japan to learn from the lessons of its wartime past. In remarks last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he said: "Today, when memories of war are set to fade, I reckon it is important to look back on our past with modesty and pass down correctly the miserable experience and the historic path Japan took from the generation who know the war to the generation who don't."

These remarks were seen as a rebuke to the shift to the right by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government.

The Crown Prince regularly attends conferences on water policy and water conservation abroad, and is a sportsman and music lover. The Imperial Household Agency website describes him as "an avid tennis player (who) also enjoys mountaineering and jogging. He is an accomplished violist".

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Crown Prince Naruhito, next in line to the throne, is fierce critic of the monarchy institution'. Print Edition | Subscribe