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Japan’s imperial family latest royals to join Instagram Wednesday, 03 April 2024

Japan’s imperial family latest royals to join Instagram

In 1926, when Japanese Emperor Hirohito ascended the Imperial throne, he was revered by millions of Japanese people as a living god.

Almost 100 years later, the world’s oldest continuing monarchy is sporting a very different look.

His grandson, Emperor Naruhito vowed to bring the country’s royal family into the modern age when he took over five years ago.

And on Monday, the royal household took a very definite step into the 21st Century: they joined Instagram.

The move comes some 15 years after Britain’s royals first made their social media debuts.

"The [Japanese] were perhaps the last notable royal family not to fully engage the digital era," notes social media analyst Andrew Hughes.

But it was an inevitable move. The family had made clear their wish to engage with younger generations and stay relevant; and given those subjects increasingly only get content through their phones, the family would also have to go online.

But for those hoping to get a more authentic glimpse into Imperial Family’s day-to-day lives, the 48-hour presence of the @kunaicho_jp account so far might disappoint.

Bonsai plants and lots of bowing

"When I heard [they] created an Instagram, I quickly checked it out. But of course the emperor wouldn’t post ‘today’s lunch (heart emoji)’ or anything like that," one fan wrote online.

In the 70 pictures and five videos uploaded across the kunaicho_jp [Imperial Household] profile so far, Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their widely adored only child, the 22-year-old Princess Aiko feature prominently.

But a page divulging personal notes, reflections or even just more candid pictures of the royals this is not.

Instagram The British Royal family and the Japanese royal family’s instagram pages Instagram

The British royals - who have had an official Instagram for several years - post different style of images to the new Japanese instagram page

The gallery so far is pretty formal in tone - just a round up of royal duties these last few months: public appearances, visits to museums, earthquake sites and meetings in drawing rooms with royals from other lands. There’s some bonsai and a lot of bowing. A birthday celebration post shows the Emperor and Empress seated at a low table, smiling for the cameras.

Instagram influencers go to great lengths to curate the overall look of their grid - for potential new followers to be won over in one glance by a brand that’s cohesive and easy on the eye, a definable aesthetic.

The Japanese royals appear to have one too. A melange of beige and grey.

"The account’s posts are extremely dull, the same kind of photos it shares in press releases," says Jeffrey Hall, a Japanese studies lecturer at Kanda University.


The Japanese royals hosting a visit with the royals from Brunei

The captions, written solely in Japanese, so far remain just factual recaps of the event shown in photos. Don’t expect a casual first name sign-off just yet or any personal musings from the Emperor.

And while they’ve seized on the Stories function- the tool usually used by Instagram users to post sporadic flashes of life - it appears so far the Imperial Household officials are just using it to showcase the B-roll of event photographs.

"I don’t think that the conservative officials at the IHA have any intention of providing an interactive or entertaining experience for their Instagram followers," says Mr Hall.

Tightly controlled

Crucially, they’ve also turned the comments off - a trend emerging out of the corporate world, social media analysts note.

"It stops any brand damage from those platforming their own causes, hijacking of comments… and basically diluting the content and harming the brand," says Mr Hughes, who teaches advertising and marketing at the Australian National University.

"They may yet change it but I wouldn’t expect that as that would open a can of worms and they have very much seen what happens from overseas examples with other royal families."

Certainly, while the Japanese royals might be making their online debut 15 years later than the Windsors, the furore over a photoshopped image of the Princess of Wales and her family in recent months would certainly be front of mind.

After all, this is a royal family whose Chrysanthemum throne rule and lineage trace millennia, a royal house which did not wish to taint themselves with social media for well over a decade.

"Expect a very tight and narrow narrative and content as the Japanese royal family want to reinforce their conservative and safe brand image," says Mr Hughes. "There will be no (Prince Harry’s autobiography) Spare-style works emerging or any Photoshopped dramas."

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He notes too that the Japanese have a slightly different relationship with their royals - more reverential, more respectful.

"They don’t need to provide constant content initially, just more a subtle reinforcement of brand and minimising AI and disinformation and misinformation by controlling what is released and discussed. For me, this is smart brand management," says Mr Hughes.

And while there have been tabloid scandals in the past, the Imperial Household has worked hard to keep the Crown family clean - by and large, they are still viewed by the Japanese populace as morally upstanding role models.

KUNAICHO_JP/INSTAGRAM The Japanese royal family sit at a banquet table KUNAICHO_JP/INSTAGRAM

Posts featuring Princess Aiko, like this one, have received the most likes so far

The family has long used traditional media channels, photography, newspapers and since the Meji period, TV programmes and weekly magazines to get their message across.

"However, these mediums were often employed to reinforce their positive yet distant image rather than fostering familiarity with the public," says Masafumi Moden, a Japanese Studies lecturer at the Australian National University.

It seems with Instagram, the family are continuing that strategy.

Social media might encourage close-ups, but for the Japanese royal family they’re content to remain at arms length.

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