Japan demands apology over 'disrespectful' Australian book on imperial family

The Japanese government has demanded an apology from the Australian author of a new book accused of defaming the imperial family through its depiction of Crown Princess Masako, officials said Wednesday.

"Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne," written by Ben Hills, was released by Random House in December and is billed as a biography of the 43-year-old diplomat-turned-royal, who has suffered long-standing stress-induced health problems.

In official letters to the publisher and author, Japan's Foreign Ministry condemned the book as containing "disrespectful descriptions, distortions of facts and judgmental assertions with audacious conjectures and coarse logic."

Japanese media traditionally handle the Imperial family with gentle care, using honorific terms and avoiding subject matter that could be construed as inflammatory. Criticizing the emperor, who was revered as a god before World War II, was regarded as serious crime in the first half of the 20th century.

The letter, signed by Japan's ambassador to Australia, Hideaki Ueda, was hand-delivered in Sydney on Monday, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

The government took particular issue with the treatment of the birth of Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Masako, as well as Masako's physical condition, which has prevented her from appearing in public for extended stretches.

The letter demanded an apology and unspecified "prompt measures," adding that the biography contains "irresponsible citation of rumors" and "highly contemptuous descriptions." The Imperial Household Agency also sent a similar letter of objection.

Another Foreign Ministry official refused to specify which sections of the book prompted the protest. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the letter did not list them to avoid repeating the insults.

The author said the government's accusations were an attempt to pressure Kodansha, which plans to publish a Japanese edition of the book, not to issue it. The book is due for release in several weeks, Hills said. Kodansha officials were not immediately available for comment.

"The book is highly critical of the Imperial Household Agency and their role in persecuting Princess Masako, causing her to suffer severe depression," Hills wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "This had not been honestly reported in Japan, and the government is obviously afraid it will lead to criticism."

Random House refused to comment on the controversy, but said it supports Hills.

"We are standing by our author on this," said Karen Reid, head of publicity.

Ueda's letter stated that "the Government of Japan can by no means ignore contempt for His Majesty the Emperor who holds the constitutional status, nor contempt for other members of the Imperial family as well as the people of Japan."

Ueda also conveyed Japan's concerns on Monday to Peter Grey, deputy secretary of Australia's trade ministry, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry, reports AP.

In February 2001, a German magazine apologized to Japan for making fun of Crown Prince Naruhito's then-childless marriage. Aiko was born in December 2001.

The magazine, a supplement to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, ran a picture showing the royal couple with "Tote Hose" literally "dead pants," but understood in Germany as "nothing going on" written across Naruhito's groin.

The picture prompted a complaint from the Japanese government. Germany's ambassador in Tokyo also expressed regret to Japanese officials.

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