TOKYO,JULY 2 -- A news photograph depicting just-married Prince and Princess Akishino in a rare informal and affectionate pose during the wedding ceremonies Friday has prompted Japan's secretive Imperial Household Agency to try to punish the photographer and prevent publication of the photo.
Most Japanese newspapers ignored the government's request and published on Saturday the heartwarming picture of Kiko, the "Cinderella princess," smiling and playfully straightening her husband's hair during a brief moment of relaxation on their wedding day. Several newspaper editors said today that the photo was a welcome departure from the traditional stiff and distant images of Japan's imperial family, one that would be welcomed by ordinary people and the imperial family alike.
But the Imperial Household Agency, the government bureaucracy that jealously guards the mystique of Japan's emperor, disagreed. The agency barred news photographer Toshiaki Nakayama from attending a wedding banquet Saturday and may also banish him from future events, according to agency spokesman Takenari Sugawara.
Agency officials also contacted the Tokyo Press Photographers Association Friday and asked it to persuade its member newspapers not to use the photo, according to Hideyaki Mitsuishi, secretary-general of the association. Most Japanese newspapers refused the entreaty, but the imperial agency was able to recover the negative before it was distributed to U.S. and other foreign media, he said.
The incident shows how remote the imperial family remains here and how little it -- or its handlers -- has modernized, as many had predicted it would after the death of Emperor Hirohito last year. The dispute also highlights a more fundamental debate about the nature of the imperial family and its relationship to commoners. Traditionalists, some of whom still view Emperor Akihito as divine, believe the family should remain aloof, not risking the gossip and familiarity attached to the royal family in Britain.
But many others believe that Akihito, who become emperor after his father Hirohito's six-decade-long reign, should mingle more freely in Japanese society. Akihito himself has shown small signs that he agrees, speaking in less formal language than did his father, for instance, and ordering his motorcade to stop for emergency vehicles.
Indeed, photographer Nakayama said today that it was the emperor who gave him the idea of taking an informal picture. During the formal photo session of the emperor and empress and the prince and princess Friday, Nakayama said, the emperor broke the look-straight-ahead tension by initiating a brief conversation with his new daughter-in-law, causing her to smile shyly and adding some life to the official picture.
So after the emperor and empress left, and while the young newlyweds were preparing for the next round of picture-taking, Nakayama caught them in the only spontaneous and affectionate pose of the day. It was the only time any camera caught the couple touching during a day of age-old ritual.
"Even though the Imperial Household Agency asked us not to use it, it was such a good photo we decided to go ahead," said Minoru Hirai, a photo editor for the giant Yomiuri newspaper. "It makes such a warm, cheerful impression, and it shows the new side of the imperial family -- the openness that wasn't there before."
Prince Aya -- as he was known before his wedding -- and commoner Kiko Kawashima had captured Japan's heart with the apparent openness and sincerity of their relationship. Aya, 24, and Kiko, 23, met as university students, not in a typical matchmaking, and fell in love despite the gap in status between a supposed descendant of the sun goddess and a daughter of a middle-class university professor.
Sugawara, the Imperial Household Agency spokesman, said that Nakayama, who works for the Kyodo news service, had violated an agreement to take only formal, posed wedding shots. "This was against the rules," Sugawara said. Nakayama has served as official pool photographer to the imperial family since November 1988, covering Hirohito's funeral and other events. He said nobody objected at the time he took the disputed photograph, even though his flash popped, but he also said the argument was to be expected.
"I've said many times that if the Imperial Household Agency wants to do everything in its own way, it should hire and pay its own photographers," Nakayama said. "We get caught in the middle."
Sugawara said that Nakayama was barred from the Saturday events because he broke the rules, but that no decision has been made about future events. The Tokyo Press Photographers Association is to meet Wednesday to consider its response to the dispute.