Japan’s notoriously private royal family joins Instagram to appeal to a younger audience

Japan’s imperial family made an Instagram debut with a barrage of posts on Monday, 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 youth. 

By Tuesday morning, their verified account Kunaicho_jp had more than 517,000 followers.

The first photo published was of the imperial couple sitting on a sofa with their 22-year-old daughter Princess Aiko, all smiling as they marked New Year’s Day. Other postings also included the Imperial couple’s meetings with foreign dignitaries, including Brunei Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah with his wife, Sara.

A video of Naruhito addressing well-wishers during his Feb. 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.

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“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, using a respectful honorific to refer to the princess.

However, both students said they didn’t plan on following the royal family’s Instagram account.

A woman in traditional Japanese clothing smiles in front of a building
Japan’s Princess Aiko, the daughter of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, poses for media on the grounds of Gakushuin University as she attends her graduation ceremony in Tokyo on March 20. (Richard A. Brooks/Pool/The Associated Press)

Royal family’s fans largely older generations

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 wasn’t necessarily a negative thing.

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

Palace officials had been considering using social media to get more people interested in the family and their activities.

Last year, the agency set up a team of experts to study the effects of using social media on the imperial family. The agency had become 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.

She also declined to receive a dowry as the public did not fully celebrate her union. 

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

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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, but concerns over how the world’s oldest monarchy can be friendly without losing its nobility or avoid blowups remain.

The account doesn’t follow anyone nor interact with the public. Users can’t 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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