Watch: Japan’s new emperor plays in an orchestra

Watch: Japan’s new emperor plays in an orchestra


norman lebrecht

May 02, 2019

We have received video of Emperor Naruhito playing in the viola section of a Tokyo orchestra in December 2017:

And another from 2014:

And here playing Land of Hope and Glory



  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    Is a conductor allowed to tell off an empereror? Could the conductor be beheaded for this?


    There is a strong music interest in the Japanese imperial family, and it is wonderful to learn about the Emperor’s talent as a viola player.

    The late Prince Takamado of Mikasa, a branch of the imperial family close to the Emperor, was a good amateur cellist, and his three daughters all learned violin, cello and piano. The Prince passed away at the age of 47 in 2002.

  • Rene says:

    From now on, are viola jokes classified as lèse-majesté in Japan?

  • anon says:

    So westernized. So wrong.

  • Ken says:

    His mother is also an accomplished musician.

  • Anon says:

    This is wonderful! He looks like he is truly enjoying himself!

  • Anon begone says:

    So trite. So offensive. So Anon!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Enough with those snide remarks. If Emperor Naruhito is up to the task, he only deserves enormous respect for joining the orchestra. This is as classy as it gets.

    • The View from America says:

      And it’s nice to see a head of state on the side of the underdogs, too. 🙂

    • Andrew Hsieh says:

      I believe this is the Gakushuin University alumni orchestra, where he has played regularly since the late 1980s. The second video is about him playing a viola made with debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the third is about his first public performance alongside his daughter (who was playing cello in the youth orchestra). I for one hope protocol allows him to continue. If a crown prince can take direction from a conductor, so can an emperor, right?

      Interestingly, while Naruhito may be the first head of state to play the viola, one head of government has been a violist: Lothar de Maziere, the last (and only democratically elected) prime minister of East Germany, was a former professional violist.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        There is more. Edward Heath was a fairly accomplished conductor. One might argue about Helmut Schmidt’s credentials as a pianist, but at least he recorded Mozart with Eschenbach and Frantz.
        If we go back a bit, Ignaz Paderewski was briefly Prime Minister of Poland. I have never heard Harry S Truman play the piano, but there are reports that he was not bad for an amateur.

        • Michael Turner says:

          Edward Heath a fairly accomplished conductor? I think any professional players who played for him, and I did on several occasions, will tell a very different tale. He was probably his own biggest fan. In the professional world he was a complete joke as a conductor.

          • Stereo says:

            Hi Michael,we experienced him together I think. Stuart BSO.

          • Michael Turner says:

            Hello Stuart! Hope you’re enjoying retirement? And your golf!

          • Stereo says:

            Back in uk now.Certainly enjoying life and looking forward to playing more golf. Hope you and the family are ok.

        • Stereo says:

          Believe me Edward Heath was not a fairly accomplished conductor. Also if it weren’t for his lies about the EU we wouldn’t be in the mess we call Brexit.

        • Andrew Hsieh says:

          Yes, many world leaders have played the piano or violin. Among US presidents, Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Richard Nixon all played the violin, and many more played the piano.

          But violists are far less common.

  • Ed says:

    Macron plays the piano. Années de Pèlerinage.

  • Ben says:

    Yet … he still fails to issue a formal state apology to China regarding what Japan did during WWII, nor care to include the true extent of their evil acts to other Asian countries in their school textbooks (which have been “filtered” out for decades).

    Seriously, their annual WWI memorials are for the Japanese who died, not for the tens of millions of others they killed (in cold blood).

    So while most of us still remembers the horrors of the Holocaust, and being educated on it — such that history would not repeat itself, I wonder how many native Japanese millennial know anything about the war crimes their country had committed.

    Sad country. So full of itself. So pretentious. So fake.

    • Selective Amnesia says:

      Selective history here Ben. And how many people did Chairman Mao murder? If you take a poll of the best loved or admired country in Asia. I would bet that Japan ranks at the top and China at the bottom.

      China should begin to apologize to its own people for the millions Mao killed. And more recently the Tiananmen Massacre.

    • James Qin says:

      Yes, we all should remember the holocaust and speak out for the millions of Uighurs who are languishing in China’s concentration camps. History does repeat itself.

      Japan so fake? Who leads the world in counterfeit goods?

      Ben is so delusional.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      He is the ceremonial head-of-state. He really isn’t responsible for what appears in school textbooks in Japanese schools.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I honestly don’t know what-all about Emperor Naruhito or his qualifications as the symbolic leader of Japan, but after seeing these videos and reading the comment of Andrew Hsieh, I like him!
    Good luck, sensei!

  • Jack says:

    I’m surprised the Imperial Household Agency would allow this sort of thing.