Author lambastes Japan over push to block princess book


Sun, Feb 18, 2007 - Page 3

An Australian journalist lashed out at the Japanese government yesterday, likening it to North Korea, after a publisher backed down on releasing his biography of Crown Princess Masako.

Ben Hills said the publisher bowed to government pressure in canceling the translation of his book, which blames overbearing palace minders for plunging the career woman-turned-princess into depression.

But Hills said he was talking to other Japanese publishers to print his book and that the controversy was boosting interest in the English-language edition, released last December by Random House Australia.

Hill called the decision by Japanese publishing house Kodansha a "blatant attack on freedom of speech."

Late on Friday Kodansha said it had canceled plans to publish the Japanese translation of Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The tartly worded biography is billed on the cover as "tragic, true story" of the 43-year-old princess, a Harvard graduate who abandoned a diplomatic career to marry royalty. The book describes her as a virtual captive of the imperial palace who has been bullied by bureaucrats into depression.

Hills said in an e-mail yesterday that he was "disappointed" by Kodansha's decision, adding "We regard this as a blatant attack on freedom of speech."

He also condemned Japan's government for exercising "censorship that would be totally unacceptable in any other advanced country" and pressuring Kodansha to surrender.

"I do not worry whether people love my book or hate my book, but they should be given the chance to read it for themselves and make up their own minds," Hills said.

Japan's Imperial Household Agency and its Foreign Ministry had demanded an apology from the author for "disrespectful descriptions, distortions of facts and judgmental assertions with audacious conjectures and coarse logic." But government officials declined to cite most of the passages they found problematic. The government also protested to Random House in Sydney.

Kazunobu Kakishima, editor at Kodansha, denied the company was scrapping the translation because of the government's protest. The decision, he said, came after Hills refused to acknowledge making factual errors during an interview with a Japanese TV on Friday. Kakishima said Hills had acknowledged the errors in discussions with Kodansha.

But Hills said that he and his Australian publisher did not apologize for the errors "because we felt -- and feel -- that there is nothing to apologize for."