Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hail to the King, baby

(Pictured: No images of the royal child are yet published, so here is one of me instead)
Although it was probably only a minor news story back home, here in Japan the birth of a baby boy to Princess Kiko and Prince Akashino was big news. The young prince, as yet unnamed, is the first heir produced by the Imperial family in 40 years. The birth comes as a great relief for Japanese conservatives, who are now hoping that the debate that has been raging regarding whether or not women should be allowed to succeed to the throne will go away. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who proposed the reform last year was heavily opposed by hardline conservatives who believe that only a male heir should be allowed to succeed, some suggesting solutions as radical as Crown Prince Naruhito taking concubines. Survey suggests public opinion is that there isn't any reason why women shouldn't be given the chance to succeed, but the conservative minority is by far the more vocal of the two camps. Thankfully, the birth of a son gives the Japanese government the chance to objectify the discussion; perhaps a dispute whose consequences lie 70 or 80 years into the future will be a less touchy subject. For now though, the mood is joyous. Japanese people are unequivocally delighted by the news of their future Emperors birth. Both camps are united in celebration. Everybody seems to have accepted the birth with a feeling of relief and pride.

While not a monarchist by anyone's standards, I find this quite touching. Growing up all I can remember about British Royal Family is scandal after scandal, affairs, alchoholism, public racial slurs, the Queen snapping a pheasant's neck, and whole lot of other events I don't care to remember. While the media must take a certain amount of blame for pursuing them endlessly and not giving them any privacy, I've always felt a little embarrassment on account of their antics. It's refreshing to visit a country where they actually respect their monarchy. It's just different. It feels good not to wake up every morning and see Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi on the front of my newspaper and think These are the people who are representing me on the world stage. If you want to look at a country whose people have respect for their monarchy, take a look at Thailand. Everywhere you go in Bangkok the King's face can be seen. They have huge posters, giant billboards, statues, paintings hanging in every household. His bespectacled visage is inescapable. I went to see a movie, and at the beginning of the film the words "All Rise And Pay Your Respects To The King" came up on the screen. Immediately everybody stood up, and the national anthem started to play. Still seated, and knowing if I stood now I would be spotted, all I could do was awkwardly sink lower into my chair as a montage of patriotic images of the King was played - the King riding a horse, the King addressing his people, the King wearing safety goggles and gazing intently at a test tube (he's a chemist? Inspiring.) and finally the King playing golf. While the sheer distilled patriotism of the occasion was enough to make any believer in liberal democracy shiver slightly in trepidation, it was still impressive. Here, like in Japan, is a monarch people actually look up to.Maybe we need a King. Ideally someone like a monster hybrid of Elvis, Jesus and Robert the Bruce, someone with style, daring, intelligence, guts and an agenda. But that's dangerous thinking.

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