Upper house bars Yamamoto from imperial events for contentious letter

Taro Yamamoto, an independent upper house member at the center of a controversy after he handed a letter to Emperor Akihito last week, was banned Friday by the chamber from attending ceremonies and other events related to the imperial family, lawmakers said.

The punishment, decided at a directorate meeting of the House of Councillors' Rules and Administration Committee, is unusual in that it is not based on the chamber's regular rules but on the right to "maintain order" there given to its president in addressing an atypical breach of protocol, according to the lawmakers.

Yamamoto, an antinuclear activist, said he wanted the emperor to know through his letter about the health problems of children affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the tough environment for workers trying to contain the crisis prompted by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

He handed over the letter when he attended a garden party hosted by the emperor and Empress Michiko on Oct. 31 along with other lawmakers and celebrities, triggering criticism that his action could amount to political exploitation of the emperor, who the Constitution designates as a "symbol" of the state without any political powers.

Upper house president Masaaki Yamazaki also issued a strong warning after summoning to his office the 38-year-old actor-turned-politician, who was elected in last year's election, to impose the punitive measure on him.

Yamamoto, accepting the reprimand, told reporters he had been "thoughtless" and "selfish." He also apologized for having troubled the emperor, but said he would not step down over the incident.