World Notes JAPAN

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In late 1988, as Emperor Hirohito lay dying, Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima broke a widely observed taboo by criticizing the once deified leader. "I experienced military life," said Motoshima in response to a question in the city assembly, "and I believe the Emperor had responsibility for the war." Last week the 67-year-old mayor paid for that statement, very nearly with his life. As Motoshima stepped out of city hall, a gunman shot him in the lung from behind. At week's end the mayor was in stable condition.

Shortly after the shooting, police arrested Kazumi Tajiri, who confessed to the crime. Tajiri, 40, is a member of Seikijuku, a right-wing activist organization that supports the old imperial system.

Though the Japanese constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the taboo against criticizing the royal family is almost never violated. Said Naoo Harada, who published a collection of pro and con letters written to the mayor after his remark: "I'm fearful that this incident could force out freedom of speech again."