The Imperial Palace gardens were opened to the public recently to celebrate the Emperor's 80th birthday. Can someone confirm the use of the passive voice in the following sentence on the subject in context of using the passive form to show respect and addressing the Emperor?(see note below).


Or, in other words, is the passive voice used here to show respect to the Emperor and aren't people supposed to use more elevated language to refer to his activities, or at least お迎えになる which I think is more honorific than the passive?

Note: example of normal use of 迎える:20歳の誕生日を迎える=celebrate one's twentieth birthday

  • 3
    Good question but you are missing something. Hint: What is the main topic/subject? It is not 天皇陛下, which is why no further honorific expressions are necessary. If this does not help, I will post my answer.
    – user4032
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 10:01

1 Answer 1


First, 「迎えられた」 here is purely honorific, not passive voice. The two forms just happen to be written the same way and only the context will tell you which one it is being used for.

So, why is a seemingly rather simple honorific form like「迎えられた」 being used when it is talking about the Emperor?

As I implied in my comment above, the reason is that this sentence's main topic (and also its grammatical subject) is 「この[特別公開]{とくべつこうかい} = "this special opening (of the Palace facilities)"」, not 「[天皇陛下]{てんのうへいか} = "the Emperor"」.

Had this been a sentence announcing that the Emperor had his 80th birthday (let us say, yesterday), using "the Emperor" as its grammatical subject, it would have used a more elevated honorific verb form and have read something like this:


Note: Deep down, I am hesitant in calling the original writing a "sentence" because it ends in a noun -- 「もの」 instead of a verb but I called it a sentence for the sake of smooth conversation.

  • Thank you for your answer. Can I conclude that if the subject of an "embedded sentence" (here 「天皇陛下が昨年12月23日に80歳の傘寿を迎えられた」) should be addressed "honorifically" then the "passive-honorific verb" (here「迎えられた」) should be used instead of the honorific verb that would have been used in a "stand alone" sentence (ie 「お迎えになられた」), or is either form fine?
    – Tim
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 15:11
  • Your end note touches another topic I have been meaning to raise but I will make it a separate question.
    – Tim
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 15:17
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    @Tim Among us amateurs, quite a few will mistakenly use the higher honorific form even within the embedded mini-sentence if its subject were somethng like the Emperor. If this is done, the whole sentence will sound wordy and possibly tend to lose its focus as to what the real topic of the sentence was. Thus, this will be avoided in professional writing even at the risk of receiving a few phone calls from the ultra right wing.
    – user4032
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 22:15
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    Mainichi shinbun adopts a policy of avoiding honorific verbs from top to bottom as far as I have read. I once even saw they had written 乗客も協力したい meaning 乗客も協力されたい:"We want also passengers to cooperate it". But in general avoiding honorific or polite language is important in journalism, academism or a court. The minimam usage of honorific verbs on TV is a good compromise. Ignoring it completely is rather harmful to constitutionalism. P.S. "Honorific passive" is a misleading termiology.
    – user4092
    Commented May 6, 2014 at 7:16

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