It's Alimentary: Hirohito Mortal in Media

September 29, 1987|From Reuters

TOKYO — Japanese newspapers are breaking new ground with their graphic coverage of the illness of Emperor Hirohito, going into detail that would have been unthinkable up to the end of World War II.

The 86-year-old monarch's condition has been a subject of intense public interest after his intestinal surgery last week, the first major operation of his life.

Detailed diagrams of the emperor's alimentary canal have been published. Readers have been given detailed descriptions of how the court doctors removed a hard lump of pancreatic tissue the size of an egg that was apparently blocking his intestine.

Until Japan's defeat in World War II, the emperor was worshiped as a living god, and references to his physical condition were virtually taboo.

Protocol demanded that the emperor's person be referred to only as "the jade body," and any newspaper reporting personal details about him would have faced closure or the imprisonment of its editors.

The tradition of reticence regarding the emperor lives on to some extent in the Imperial Household Agency, which manages the imperial family's affairs.

Tests to determine whether Hirohito has cancer were completed Saturday, but the agency has delayed revealing the results. Unofficially, Nippon Television quoted unidentified sources as saying that doctors have found no sign of cancer.

Faced with a stone wall of courtly silence, the local press is printing every meager tidbit thrown to it about Hirohito's condition.

One major newspaper used large front-page headlines to proclaim the fact that his majesty had partaken of ice cream, the first semi-solid food he had eaten since the operation on Sept. 22.

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