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Why is royalty in anime often depicted as being veiled?

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Joined: 12 Jun 2004
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:48 pm Reply with quote
In many anime depictions of Japanese royalty or even royalty from fantasy worlds in general are often depicted as being veiled and hidden from the public eye. I am wondering is there some historic precedent for this in Japan, and if so what is it?
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2017 12:14 am Reply with quote
It may be a throwback to the days when it was believed that the Japanese Emperor was a divine being and that looking upon them would bring death.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2017 12:26 am Reply with quote
Japan isn't the only Far Eastern nation with this kind of tradition; pretty sure it was done in China, too, among possibly others.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2017 5:50 am Reply with quote
Okay, I know that one has to be careful when discussing religion on the internet but this is actually relevant to the topic at hand.

In the West it was believed that kings had the mandate of God. In the East it was believed that emperors had the Mandate of Heaven. This distinction between the two cultures may sound insignificant but it's absolutely not so.

Western religions (basically Christianity) believed there was only one almighty God, and the monarchs naturally claimed that He was on their side. But they didn't go so far as thinking that they themselves were God in a man's body; in their eyes that was the role of Jesus. No, the kings were just Very Special Humans doing God's work on this Earth.

Eastern rulers, however, were considered by their followers to be actual gods in and of themselves. These "gods" were justified in ruling over humans because the universe itself willed it; essentially, an emperor ruling over his people is part of the natural order of things. This is the so-called "Mandate of Heaven", a vague term indeed, but one that basically means "keeps order". Thus, for a mere mortal to lay eyes on an actual quote-unquote "god" was a big deal.

To answer your question, those bamboo blinds that we see all the time in anime are to allow emperors to give audiences without having to show their faces to their subjects. Easier to keep up mystique if you're more symbol than man. The fact that the blinds are one-way to let the rulers see their subjects' faces and body language would also be super-useful when prying information out of people, because it gives you an advantage that your underlings do not.

As an aside, you can basically consider an Eastern emperor to be like a president. His position is mandated by constitutional law (just like the Mandate of Heaven, and there must always be someone fulfilling that role because the system needs someone at the top.

Heck, in Japan, even when the emperors lost actual power in 1185AD they were still kept in a ceremonial role by the shoguns (who hold day-to-day power, i.e. Prime Ministers) to keep the populace in line. I mean, it's easy to say that a fellow human is not doing the Lord's work properly, but it's much harder to turf a guy out when your entire culture believes that he's a literal god. Hence the shogun was in charge, but the (more-powerful-in-theory-but-not-in-reality) emperor was kept around to keep the Shinto faith happy.

Please note: I am not an expert on religion, and this post is just, like, my opinion man.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2017 7:00 am Reply with quote
Seirei no Moribito is a novel by anthropologist Uehashi Nahoko that was adapted to anime by I.G. It takes place in a fictitious Asian empire that draws on Chinese and Korean cultures. In that show commoners are forbidden from looking directly at the royals. In fact a myth has been promulgated that looking upon a royal will cause blindness or death. In the live-action TV adaptation by NHK, this convention is dispensed with when the Emperor meets with his aides and family members. In more public settings he appears behind a screen. These conventions were designed to reinforce the notion that the Emperor is the chosen one of the gods (the "Mandate of Heaven") and has achieved nearly god-like status himself.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 31, 2017 8:16 am Reply with quote
My superficial knowledge of Japanese history corresponds to what dtm42 has written about the role of Emperor in Japan. I finished reading The Rising Sun by John Toland all about Japan during WWII (and remember, for the Japanese, the war didn't start with Pearl Harbor - it started in the 1930s with its incursions into China) not too long ago. The Japanese consider the Emperor to be a living god, but it's even more than that. The Emperor embodies the spirit and will of the entire nation. If the Allies had made the mistake of abolishing the Emperor position as a condition of surrender, the Japanese would have fought to the last child.
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