The chrysanthemum taboo (菊タブー Kiku tabū) is the Japanese social taboo against discussion or criticism of the Emperor of Japan and his family, especially the late Emperor Shōwa. The taboo also extended to discussion of the Emperor's declining health.
Before the end of the World War II, criticisms and discussions of the Emperor and the imperial system were severely punished by the old Penal Code as they were considered to be lèse-majesté, and there was also strong pressure from Japanese society against such criticisms. Further, the Peace Preservation Law was enacted in 1941 to punish such criticisms against the imperial system.
After the war, freedom of speech was widely recognized because of the Article 21 of the Japanese Constitution and the old Penal Code which prohibited lèse-majesté was also abolished by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Due to the abolition of the old Penal Code, even critical speech against the Emperor and the imperial system was not legally punished and such criticism became socially more tolerated than before.
However, some right-wing organizations and their members often used violence to prevent this transition. Mass media refrained from critical speech about the Emperor for fear of being attacked by right-wing organizations, and this is one of reasons for the beginning of the mass media's self-regulation. There is no evidence of self-regulation rules or standards for self-regulation regarding the Emperor in the print media; however, there is in the broadcast media, for example, the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association (JBA) Standards has a section saying "(broadcast media) do not broadcast in an attempt to harm our country and our country’s authority and as a symbol of country, Emperor is a subject to be included as the country’s authority." This self-regulation led to critical speech against Emperor and emperor system being treated as taboo in mass media.
Public awareness of the taboo
In 1988, when the Showa emperor was hospitalized, broadcast media tended to refrain from having entertainment programs voluntarily and words used in TV commercials were carefully considered due to the hospitalized Showa emperor. Some events and sports festivals were self-regulated for the same reason. The British newspaper The Sun wrote "Hell's Waiting for this Truly Evil Emperor" and "Let the Bastard Rot in Hell", while the Daily Star called the emperor "the sinking sun of evil" and compared him to Adolf Hitler. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained through the British Embassy in Japan. Michio Watanabe, executive politician of the Liberal Democratic Party said "if a special correspondent stays in Japan, we need to banish them." However, when it was reported that his heir Akihito was concerned that "the Emperor would not like to see such exaggerated reactions", there was seen a movement of "refraining from self-regulation".
In 2006, while the birth of Prince Hisahito of Akishino was being celebrated in September, a blog by Hirotada Ototake which cynically criticized the celebration was attacked and Ototake apologized. In October of the same year, there was a criticism against a reporter of Mainichi newspaper who wrote visits of the Emperor and the Empress to Saga Prefecture negatively. The criticism mainly occurred on the Internet based on the fact that the reporter was a Korean living in Japan and further, due to a number of criticisms from many organizations, Mainichi newspaper gave the reporter a serious warning.
In February 2007, Kodansha decided not to publish the book Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne by Ben Hills in a Japanese translation. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Imperial Household Agency complained to Hills, but Hills responded "no need for apology, it was the Imperial Household Agency that has to apologize to Ms. Masako. It is obvious that Japanese government was afraid of criticism from Japanese people." Kodansha explained their decision by stating "the author’s attitude is problematic and we can’t take responsibility for what might happen due to the publication." Hills answered the interview from Mainichi newspaper and said "it is very disappointing that Kodansha decided not to publish. I am sure that Kodansha gave into the pressure from the Imperial Household Agency, Ministry of Foreign Affair, and other government offices." On August 2 in the same year, Daisanshokan decided to publish the book. Daisanshokan stated "there is no particular reason for not publishing. We will correct dates and simple mistakes and publish a perfect version."
Abdication and a temporary end to the taboo
In the summer of 2016, a tired and aging Emperor Akihito leaked his wish to abdicate to the press, setting off a chain of events where the political and constitutional positions of the emperor and the imperial family became an acceptable topic of public debate for the first time in decades, if not centuries.
- Dudden, Alexis (2008). Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States. Columbia University Press. p. 38. ISBN 9780231141765.
- Field, Norma (2011-02-09). In the Realm of a Dying Emperor. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 59. ISBN 9780307761002.
- Dudden, Alexis (2006). "Japan's Political Apologies and the Right to History" (PDF). Harvard University. Retrieved 17 May 2014.[dead link]
- Sugimoto, Yoshio (2003). An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge University Press. p. 239. ISBN 9780521529259.
- Chira, Susan (29 December 1988). "Is Hirohito Free of War Guilt? The Risks of Defying a Taboo". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
- Leiter, Samuel L. (2009). Rising from the Flames: The Rebirth of Theater in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 125. ISBN 9780739128183.
- 「民放連 放送基準解説書2014 (JBA Broadcasting Standard Reference)」The Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association, Sep. 2014
- It was seen in commercials of Cefiro from Nissan and Carina from Toyota as car companies. In other industries, Lotte also self-regulated.
- "Japan Protests British Papers' Hirohito Slurs". Los Angeles Times. United Press International. September 22, 1988. Retrieved 21 February 2016.