Writer claims Newsweek stuffed his piece to avoid offending Japanese imperial supporters

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In late August, just over a week before Princess Kiko gave birth, Newsweek Japan commissioned this freelance journalist to contribute an article on the succession issue. With most of the country expecting a baby boy, the remit was to write a ‘very outspoken, opinionated’ piece on how ‘foreign experts’ viewed the latest developments in Japan’s imperial drama, with the emphasis on a single rhetorical question: wouldn’t a girl be better?

In November 2005, as the debate on changing the Imperial Household Law to allow a female monarch raged, we had written a cover story titled “Does Japan Need its Imperial Family” (in Japanese: Koshitsu wa hontou ni hitsuyou), which explored among other things why Japan appeared to be unique among the world’s remaining monarchies in forbidding female rule. That article criticized Japan’s Big Media for stifling debate.

It is ironic then that during the translation process for the latest article, which was also projected to be a cover story, Newsweek declined to publish. The chief editor explained in an e-mail that he couldn’t run the piece as planned on September 6th, the scheduled date of Princess Kiko’s Cesarean birth. That effectively meant it would never see the light of day because after the birth it would lose all news value.
Was the chief editor surprised by the content? I had sent a detailed proposal to Newsweek before starting, and later a list of interviewees and a full copy of the article’s introduction. Throughout the week, e-mails from the commissioning editor had told me to move ahead, with specific instructions to shorten the introduction or seek out more quotes. On final delivery, she said she was very happy with the piece.

The problem, as the chief editor explained later, is that the article would have been sharply at odds with the mood of the country on the very day the new heir arrived. Yet as he also said, hinting at pressure from above, this was exactly the sort of independent niche role Newsweek had carved for itself. Moreover, support for a male heir was far from universal, as anyone who dragged his or her eyes away from the fawning TV coverage to talk to ordinary Japanese people quickly discovered. Indeed, given that one survey carried out before the Kiko pregnancy reported that 84 percent of the country supported a female emperor it is quite possible that ours was the majority view....

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