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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #322: November 15, 2005

A Royal Bride Marries - and Quits Work

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

A Royal Bride Marries - and Quits Work
(Bennett Richardson) The Christian Science Monitor

Related Article:
Japan Princess Weds, to Start New Life as Commoner
(Isabel Reynolds) Reuters


Today is a Royal wedding day - or, more precisely, a wedding day for a princess to become an ordinary housewife.

Princess Sayako, the only daughter of the Emperor is now married at the age of 36, to, as traditionally has the princesses in the past century have done, a commoner, and, accordingly, has ceased to be a member of the Imperial family, as defined in the law.

While wishing for a happy life ahead for Sayako, the Princess's wedding displays a number of prominent issues Japan faces today.

One is the succession of the Imperial Throne. The current Imperial Household Law stipulates only male can succeed the Throne. At the moment, the heir to the throne Prince Naruhito has only a daughter. While there may still be a possibility for the Prince and Princess to have a male child, time is running short. The Royal Household Law indeed prepares for such a case and defines precisely who have the right, and in what order, to succeed. The problem is that there has been no male child born for the last 40 years in the Imperial Family (where male children would have the right of succession), while, ironically, nine princesses were born. And it has become a real concern that there would be no one to succeed unless something is done.

In order to look into the matter and to recommend any remedy, an official panel was set up last year. The panel last month concluded - though the final is report still pending - that the law should be amended to allow a woman to take the throne. It would be a phenomenal change if this goes through and the law would be amended accordingly. It would do away with the long paternal line of the throne maintained through history, where the current Emperor is the 125th in the line. There are those fiercely oppose such an idea, and significantly more who fear it might be imprudent for the people living this now to cast off the tradition so long preserved through history. Real discussions among people have only just begun.

Another issue is the women's participation in the working world. Sayako has quit her part-time job as an ornithologist, which, the writer of the article above has described as a sign of gender discrimination in Japan's working environment. While it may be true that Japanese businesses in general still prefer men to women in hiring, the climate is definitely changing. Although it may take a little more time to see female executives all over the place, this could be due to the seniority system - not many woman have served long enough to fill senior positions - rather than discrimination based on gender. In any case, not many think Sayako's case has much to do with workplace discrimination, apparently she feels adjusting to commoners' life should be a challenge enough, at least for the time being.

A more serious issue for the society as a whole with regard to women's social participation is that it has become a major reason for women to marry late, and have fewer children. Princess Sayako herself upon graduating from college, in 1992, replied in an interview as to her plans of marriage saying that as most of her friends were either starting a working career or continuing to study and research fields, it seemed premature for her to think about her own marriage. Such sentiment is now common among young women.

The answer may seem simple. Create a social framework where women can have children without risking their career. While even this is a typical example of things easily said and done, the question is whether it is really enough to turn thing around. Would by lifting whatever the social or economic obstacle women begin to breed? Wouldn't they consider raising children merely as nuisance, after experiencing all the pleasures of the moment the modern world provides? Would they have the patience to bear the hassle and bustle and also tediousness of child-raising for all that long period of time before being able to sense the satisfaction and pride of having brought up those to pass on the torch?

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