PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s courtesy call on Emperor Akihito was canceled Thursday as the Japanese imperial family went into mourning for the emperor’s uncle, Prince Mikasa who died at the age of 100.
Duterte said he respected the imperial family’s time of mourning and expressed his condolences.
“The protocol officer said not to go there anymore because they are in mourning. I respect that because I would ask the same… if I were in his shoes,” Duterte said.
Prince Mikasa was the youngest brother of the current emperor’s father Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War II.
Duterte and Akihito were slated to meet before the President concluded his three-day official visit in Japan on Thursday.
Mikasa’s death coincides with renewed attention to the future of the aging and shrinking imperial family and whether women should be allowed to inherit the throne, breaking a males-only succession tradition that conservatives say is central to an imperial tradition stretching back 2,600 years.
Mikasa, a scholar of ancient Oriental history, taught at colleges, and served as honorary president of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan and the Japan-Turkey Society.
Emperor Akihito, 82, hinted in August that he wanted to abdicate—a step unprecedented in modern Japan and not possible under current law. The remaining four male heirs include 10-year-old Prince Hisahito, the emperor’s only grandson.
The three older heirs are Akihito’s 80-year-old brother and his two middle-aged sons including Crown Prince Naruhito.
Earlier, the protocol-conscious Japanese were on faux pas alert for Duterte’s meeting with Emperor Akihito, the nation’s most revered figure.
Duterte, who has made a habit of hurling sharp, even profane, insults at world figures, was on his first visit as president to Japan, a nation perhaps known more than any other for politeness and strict codes of conduct.
Concerns about Duterte’s behavior during his trip spiked after a video of him in China last week meeting with President Xi Jinping showed him apparently chewing gum—considered rude in Japan for such an occasion.
He was also seen standing at the event with his hands in his pockets, another no-no.
Since arriving in Tokyo on Tuesday, Duterte has avoided any major trouble, though he has kept up a barrage of insults against Washington. Still, a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday went off without a hitch.
But as the trip approached its end, some Japanese were worried Duterte would offend the deeply respected figurehead.
Japan’s emperors were once worshipped as living demigods and the throne is still venerated by much of the public, despite being largely stripped of its mystique and quasi-divine status in the aftermath of World War II.
Most Japanese bow when meeting the emperor, though foreigners generally shake his hand.
“Why did you put your hands in your pockets and chew gum in front of President Xi Jinping?” asked Kunihiko Miyake, a former diplomat, in a column published in the conservative Sankei Shimbun on Thursday.
“Some see them as simple rudeness but I suspect these are also performances,” he added, noting Duterte’s privileged upbringing—his father was a lawyer and his mother a teacher—while the President himself is a one-time prosecutor.
Former defense minister Itsunori Onodera said on Fuji TV on Sunday that how Duterte behaves when meeting Akihito could even impact on the two countries’ relationship.
“I hope the Philippine side will remind him of that point,” Onodera said.
Social media users also expressed concern.
“Is it going to be all right?,” one Twitter user wondered. “I hope he won’t chew gum like he did in China.”
“Duterte, I beg you, please behave well at least in front of the emperor,” said another Twitter post.
But Seiichi Igarashi, associate professor of international politics at Chiba University, said Duterte was unlikely to be rude.
“It’s hard to predict what he’s going to say... But he says he’s pro-Japanese and he hasn’t made any hostile remarks against Japan,” Igarashi said. With AFP