Japan royal family launches Instagram account to appeal to youth

Undeterred by the recent saga surrounding their British counterparts, Japan’s royal family made its social media debut Monday in a bid to shake off its image as reclusive and out of touch with the country’s youth.

The ancient institution’s Instagram launch features Bonsai trees and birthday gatherings — a cautious first step into the world of social media that may disappoint those hoping for a candid glimpse into their veiled world.

The account from the Imperial Household Agency account, a government agency in charge of the family’s affairs, goes by the name @kunaicho_jp and had more than 320,000 followers by the end of its first day.

In 60 pictures and five videos published over a span of a few hours, the account showcases the royal family’s first three months of the year, from a New Year’s celebration to a royal birthday.

Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their 22-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, feature throughout, attending ceremonies and meeting other officials.

The account has blocked comments on all its posts, so many in Japan took to other social media platforms to react.

Japan’s Imperial Family made an Instagram debut on Monday, with images of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako capturing moments of their official duties, an effort to shake off their cloistered image and reach out to the younger generations.
The Instagram page of Japan’s Imperial Household on a cellphone in Tokyo on Monday.Eugene Hoshiko / AP

“Instagram by the Imperial Household Agency. I thought it was a April Fool’s joke” one user on X said. Some were surprised by the quick growth in followers. “It’s hard to believe that the account was just launched today,” another user said.

The Japanese royal family, considered to be the world’s oldest monarchy, says it is trying to reach out to younger generations by posting on Instagram and will consider opening accounts on Facebook and X in the future.

“Since the Imperial Family is built on the consensus of the people, we hope this will deepen the understanding amongst young people who will lead the next generation,” said Mariko Fujiwara, head of the public relations office at the Imperial Household Agency, according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper last week.

Japan's Princess Aiko Greets Media Upon Her Coming-of-age
One student, Yukino Yoshiura, told The Associated Press that she was excited to see more posts about Princess Aiko, as she “is close to our age and just graduated from university.”Yuichi Yamazaki / Getty Images file
Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Royal Family greet public on Emperor's 64th birthday celebrations
Emperor Naruhito and his family largely rely on older generations for support after the abdication of his popular father.Tomohiro Ohsumi / Anadolu via Getty Images

The imperial family is now finally catching up to other royals around the world, with Britain’s royal family having joined X some 15 years ago. The past month has also underscored the potential perils of social media, however, as these millennia-old institutions seek to adapt to the modern world.

The speculation and conspiracy theories surrounding Kate, the Princess of Wales, were only fueled further when Kensington Palace released an edited image of her and her children that was pulled by leading photo agencies.

Japan had its own royal scandal in 2021, when Princess Mako, the niece of popular former Emperor Naruhito, married a commoner and dramatically exited royal life in a situation reminiscent of Britain’s Prince Harry and Megan, the Duchess of Sussex.

Public disapproval of the groom dominated newspaper headlines due to a financial dispute involving his mother that delayed the wedding. Mako ultimately gave up her royal status and turned down the lump-sum payment of about $1.3 million that female royals receive when marrying outside the family.

By venturing into the world of social media, Japan’s royal family will be hoping to balance its longtime support from the country’s conservative establishment with a new appeal to younger audiences.

The Imperial Household Agency is an “extremely conservative institution,” said Jeffrey Hall, a Japanese studies lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, southeast of the capital, Tokyo. “They’d consider humorous or entertaining social media posts featuring the Imperial Family as degrading their dignity,” he told NBC News.

For now, the imperial family “seems fine with change taking place at a snail’s pace,” he said.

“Conservative Japanese fans of the imperial couple will probably be satisfied with the respectful and dignified tone of these Instagram posts,” Hall added.