Emperor Akihito has become the first Japanese monarch to address his nation on television, responding to the rhetorical vacuum created by the bumbling and inconsistent response by the elected government. Akihito’s appearance recalls the climactic line from the recent film “The King’s Speech,” when Colin Firth, portraying the symbolic ruler of another island nation, says of his role: “The nation thinks that when I speak, I speak for them.” As I’ve blogged in my full review of the film, this concept is key to all political rhetoric.
The Japanese Emperor has stepped forward in a very similar way to George VI in wartime Britain. Rather than a recitation of facts both nations needed something less tangible: resolve. Some particular highlights from Akihito’s address, illustrating direct and personal appeals to the nation, and on behlf of the nation:
“I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”
“I think it is important for all of us, in various ways and however small, to share the burden of the difficult period that the victims now face.”
As the New York Times reported today, Japan’s postwar governance has never been particularly robust, and the current crisis is exposing its weakness as never before. The failures are not only logistical but rhetorical. And as I wrote in POLITICO today, it is unfortunate that our own President thinks it fitting to be speaking about NCAA brackets while the Japanese crisis unfolds on one side of the globe and a burgeoning series of revolutions continues on the other.