Japan’s imperial family bids to shake off reclusive image with Instagram debut

Japan’s imperial family has made an Instagram debut with a barrage of posts, hoping to shake off their reclusive image and reach out to younger people on social media.

The Imperial Household Agency, a government agency in charge of the family’s affairs, posted 60 photos and five videos showing Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako’s public appearances over the past three months.

The agency said they wanted the public to have a better understanding of the family’s official duties and that Instagram was chosen because of its popularity among young people.

By Monday evening, their verified account Kunaicho_jp had more than 270,000 followers.

Other posts included the imperial couple’s meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Brunei Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah and his wife.

A video of Naruhito addressing well-wishers during his February 23 birthday celebrations garnered over 21,000 views in less than a day.

So far, the images are limited to the family’s official duties and do not include private or candid moments. The agency said it was considering adding activities of other royal members.

“It’s nice we get to see a bit of their activities because we hardly know what they are doing,” said Koki Yoneura, a 21-year-old student. “It’s good that they seem to be a bit closer to us.”

Yukino Yoshiura, also a student, said she was excited to see more posts about Princess Aiko.

“Aiko-sama is close to our age and just graduated from university, so I’m very happy to be able to see her images,” she said while calling the princess with the respectful honorific “sama”.

However, both said they did not plan on following the royal family’s Instagram account.

The Japanese imperial family’s social media debut comes 15 years after Britain’s royal family joined X, formerly Twitter, in 2009.

“I actually assumed they already had one. So I am surprised it’s just now that they are making one,” said Daniela Kuthy, an American student. She said the content seemed “very PR-clean” but that was not necessarily a negative thing.

Naruhito’s father Emperor Emeritus Akihito — who abdicated the throne in 2019 — and his wife were popular during their time but currently the royal family’s fans largely belong to older generations.

The agency became cautious after the Emperor’s niece Mako Komuro and her commoner husband faced a severe backlash on social media and in tabloids following concerns over her mother-in-law’s financial situation, causing her marriage to be delayed.

The former princess said, at the time, she suffered psychological trauma because of the media bashing, including from those online.

Experts say social media could help bring the royal family closer to the people and give the agency the ability to control the narrative and respond to disinformation.

The account does not follow anyone nor interact with the public. Users cannot comment on posts and can only press the “like” button.

Those who want to send messages to the imperial family have to use the official website.

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