Japan lawmaker reprimanded after emperor letter hits nerve

Japan lawmaker reprimanded after emperor letter hits nerve

TOKYO - A Japanese lawmaker was reprimanded on Friday for breaking a taboo by trying to involve Emperor Akihito in politics when he handed him a letter expressing concern about the health impact of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

A furore erupted after Taro Yamamoto gave Akihito the handwritten missive at a garden party last week, the first such bid in more than a century to draw the emperor's attention.

The incident highlights Japanese sensitivities about the emperor that linger nearly 70 years after his father, in whose name the Japanese military waged World War Two, renounced his divine status.

The topic was also unwelcome for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under pressure for his handling of the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Abe faces demands from some in his party and from charismatic former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi to give up nuclear power altogether.

"There's a consensus in the ongoing political squabbles of the day that the emperor ought not be involved. It's crossed the line," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asia studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus.

"And clearly nuclear energy is a huge political issue in Japan today."

On Friday, Parliament's upper house barred Yamamoto from attending events with the imperial family and issued a stern warning, an official said.

"Always keep in mind that you are a lawmaker and do nothing to dirty the name of parliament," ran the warning, media said.

Yamamoto, an actor and anti-nuclear activist elected to the upper house in July, said he had wanted to tell the emperor about the "endangered future" of Japanese children due to health problems from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which has been leaking radiation since being struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

About 150,000 people were evacuated after the disaster, and a vast swathe of land remains off-limits, while traces of radioactive contamination have been found in rice and far out in the Pacific Ocean.

Demands that Yamamoto quit were voiced immediately, and a magazine poll of 1,100 readers said 90 per cent disapproved of his action. He apologised for "worrying His Majesty" earlier this week but refused to heed the calls for his resignation.

"The standard for 'political use' is not clear," said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University. "The issue of nuclear reactors is a minus for the LDP, and that's one probable reason the reaction is so strong."

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