Japanese princess eager to engage with the public by transmitting culture

Princess Akiko said she appreciated the opportunity to use her position in the Imperial Family to pass on traditional culture to Japanese children, while stressing the importance of engaging with the general public in an exclusive interview with Kyodo News.

The 40-year-old eldest daughter of the late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, who was a cousin of former Emperor Akihito, credited her study abroad experience in Britain for a year when she was 19 as the inspiration of his life’s work. She spent the 2001-2002 academic year at Oxford University while enrolled at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

Princess Akiko speaks during an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo on May 13, 2022. (Kyodo)

“I was the only Japanese student in my year, so I was asked many questions about Japan. The experience made me realize the need for knowledge that would allow me to speak properly about my country to people in abroad,” the princess said in the May interview.

Her current activities focus on ensuring that Japanese children have the chance to experience their cultural heritage, which she does through an organization she founded called Shinyusha.

“Children are the future of Japan. I wanted to start by conveying to them the rich flavor of rice and miso soup and the pleasure of little things like lying on tatami mats,” she said. “Then I decided to start activities to pass on authentic Japanese culture to children.”

Shinyusha offers workshops that include comparing the taste of Japanese bottled and teapot tea, and making “dashi” soup broth from “kombu” kelp and dried bonito flakes.

This initiative grew out of her experiences when she returned to Oxford University from 2004 to 2009 to research the British Museum’s collections of Japanese art.

Her studies, which led her to become the first woman in the imperial family to earn a doctorate, made her realize that culture will not be preserved unless not only scholars but the general public understands and understands them. protect, she said.

All activities organized by Shinyusha, which the Princess leads as President, are funded by membership dues, donations and participation fees from companies and individuals who agree with the purpose of the organization.

While she said it was difficult to bring people together when she started the organization in 2012, to her delight she has found that many participants have become regulars after joining once. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, discussion sessions on various cultural topics are currently held online twice a month.

“My father told me when I was a child that the role of the imperial family is to connect with people and do what people want. Even now, I always keep these words as a support for my activities”, she said.

The Princess, who has a younger sister – Princess Yoko, 38 – said she felt a strong sense of responsibility as a member of the Imperial Family when she first attended New Year’s greetings being offered by Emperor Akihito to the public in 2011.

Members of the imperial family greet well-wishers who gathered at the imperial palace on January 2, 2011 from a balcony. (Kyodo)

“I heard shaking cheers and saw small flags of the rising sun. I felt the weight of the Emperor’s words as some people shed tears. I then realized that I must be a person worthy to stand in such a position,” she said. .

In addition to leading Shinyusha, the princess is also president of the Japan-Turkey Society and honorary patron of the Japan-British Society. Since April, she has been a visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, western Japan.

“My father always said that his greatest asset was his people, and the same goes for me. I hope that by engaging with many people through Shinyusha and other activities, more people will be able to understand my ideas.”

While the Princess admitted that it is difficult to hold many positions with the same level of enthusiasm, she also expressed her determination to use her position as a member of the Imperial Family to the benefit of others.

Princess Akiko also stressed the importance of preserving the cultural traditions of the Imperial Household, saying that she learned a lot about the unique words and phrases used in relation to the household and other related knowledge from her grandmother of 99-year-old Princess Yuriko, who is the oldest member of the Imperial family.

“There is meaning behind the culture, and I believe it is my duty as a member of the Imperial Family to continue to document and talk about it,” she said.

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