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Ask John: Why isn’t the Emperor Ever Featured in Anime?

I’ve been into anime for more than 10 years, seen hundreds of TV series, films and OVAs, and only recently I noticed something: not one single anime has shown or even mentioned the Japanese Emperor (and his family). Someone might wonder why is it even matter, yet I’ve seen American presidents make a cameo few times and so is the case with many other world leaders, including the Japanese prime minister. Yet the most prominent figure in Japan is never shown or mentioned. Is it because of respect? Or maybe fear? I would very much like to know more about the relationship between the Japanese media and the emperor.

Traditionally, as far back as 12th century, the role and influence of the Japanese Emperor has actually been limited and largely ceremonial in practical effect. In 1947, immediately following the end of World War II, the “Great Empire of Japan” was formally re-named the “State of Japan,” and all significant political power was shifted from the Emperor to the Japanese Parliament. So the present day Japanese Emperor, Akihito, is entirely a symbolic and ceremonial figurehead who continues to represent the world’s longest-lasting hereditary monarchy. Since the Emperor has no political power and rarely makes public appearances, he’s not perceived as especially relevant to the day-to-day lives of Japanese citizens; thus, unlike the Japanese Prime Minister, who periodically gets referenced in anime such as Coppelion or Mudazumo Naki Kaikaku because he has a direct and appreciable impact on Japanese society, the non-political Emperor is largely excluded from reference in anime.

The 1990 “Heisei no Cinderella Kiko-sama Monogatari” (Cinderella of the Heisei Era, Kiko-sama’s Story) anime TV special did illustrate the meeting and June 29, 1990, marriage of current Emperor Akihito’s second son Prince Fumihito (now known as Prince Akishino) to Kiko Kawashima.


3 Responses to “Ask John: Why isn’t the Emperor Ever Featured in Anime?”

  1. GATS Says:

    According to what I read on the JP Wikipedia, though, the Emperor is still held in high regard in Japan, and that South Park Pokemon parody was banned over there, because it made fun of him.

  2. GATS Says:

    Well, allegedly banned, anyway.

  3. motomoto Says:

    Depicting Emperor is still highly risky in Japan. This problem is sometimes called “Chrysanthemum Taboo” (Kiku tabuu) . Article of Kiku Tabuu exists in JP wikipedia.
    As long as I can remember, Russian film director Sokurov’s masterpiece, “The Sun”, which depicts “slice of life” of Showa Tenno (aka. Emperor Hirohito) under the time of WWII, had to try hard to find theaters which can bear the risk of rightists’ attack.
    By the way, princesses Masako and Kiko became member of Imperial Family only after they married with princes. So it seems that the Taboo works less for them. These ladies’ “scandals” seem favorite subject for yellow journalism indeed…

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