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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #276: January 27, 2005

Japan May Let Women Reign

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan May Let Women Reign
(Justin McCurry) The Guardian,7369,1398621,00.html


The article reports that a team was appointed by the government to look into the issue of succession of Japan's throne.

The throne is not an emblem of power to reign in Japan's case. In fact, Japan's emperor has no political power at all. He does not have the right to even influence policies of national or regional governments, which every citizen has in accordance with the fundamental right to vote. Though denounced by many as impolite, some critics even have sarcastically compared the position of the emperor to that of an incapacitated prisoner.

The status of Japan's throne has been such, as a matter of fact, since the end of 12th century when the samurai (warriors) class took over the function of the government in the form of shogunate. The power to govern was deprived from the emperor, and in turn he became more of a symbol -- he is there and recognized as an existence to be respected and admired at high social levels, but has no powers and no need to take orders from.

Succession of political reforms collectively referred to as the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of 19th century changed this format somewhat, replacing the samurai class with bureaucrats. But the essence remained the same. Though the Emperor was stipulated to 'reign' in the newly promulgated constitution, it was to be done only under the advice and counseling of the cabinet. Thus, in practical terms there was no way for the emperor to initiate, or even advise - and no way to 'order' in any sense of the word - the policies formed by the government - the cabinet and the diet.

The current version of the constitution, amended after WWII, defined the position of the emperor in a more clear way in its very Article 1. "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power." In Article 3 it states, "The advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state, and the Cabinet shall be responsible therefor." In layman's terms, it means that the people exercised the sovereign power to assign a man as the emperor whose task is to be a symbol but has no power to do anything at his will.

In a way, the fact that the throne has no powers makes the issue of succession a very delicate one. There might be ways, even with certain levels of hostility, to resolve conflicts of opinions if they were based on crave for power, may it be a sort of struggle or a vote of some kind. But forming a new set of criteria, which a significant majority of the people would accept, would not be an easy task.

The current imperial household law stipulates that only the direct descendants of emperors who are males can take the throne. Presently the crown prince Naruhito, now 44, is to succeed the current emperor Akihito. But after that, there are only six heirs to the throne, and, except for the younger brother of the crown prince who is now 39, the youngest is 56 and oldest 89. The situation is thus can be described as, the article writes, "succession crisis bedevilling one of the world's oldest monarchies."

According to the recent polls, some 80 to 90% of the people are ready to accept a female throne. Accordingly, there does not seem to be much opposition if the issue was limited to whether accepting to plan for Princes Aiko, the daughter of the crown prince, to become eligible to succeed the throne. But the issue gets a little complicated from here.

There had been female thrones in the past, but out of 125 up to the current emperor, there were only ten females - and with two empresses taking the throne twice each, only eight - who took the throne. Furthermore, the empresses were either widows or never had spouses, and upon their demise, the throne was succeeded by heirs of previous male emperors, and not those empresses. This has led some to assert those female thrones were considered only to be temporary measures in emergencies.

As a realistic assumption, what if the present crown prince and princess were to have another, male, child. Would he to supersede the order of succession of Aiko? And what if, in the future, Aiko were to take the throne and wishes to get married. What would be the position - and all the intricate protocol to go with it - of the spouse in such an unprecedented situation? And what if then Aiko were to have a baby? Would the baby, which gender it may be, allowed to succeed the throne? - something that has never happened, and apparently carefully avoided for such circumstances to occur, during the long history of the Imperial line. These are the issues the new team must tackle, and the peole are well aware of the importance and the urgency of the matter.

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