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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #334: February 13, 2006

The Nation Yearns for a Baby Boy

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

The Nation Yearns for a Baby Boy
(Anthony Faiola) Toronto Star


The article introduced above seems to strongly support changing the Royal House Law to allow for a female to succeed the imperial throne. But let us look from the other side of the table, so as to clarify the real reason why the Imperial succession has become a big issue in Japan.

In fact, the discussion on the issue is not as simple as it may seem, not only for foreigners but also for many Japanese who only recently began to realize the real implications.

The rules to be observed in Royal affairs are written in the Imperial Household Law established in 1947 along with the current Constitution during the occupation by the U.S. forces. In the first article, it stipulates that the throne shall be succeeded by "a male descended from an emperor through the paternal line."

In fact, very few oppose to the possibility of Princess Aiko, now 4 years old, to eventually succeed the throne. The fierce opposition is on the plan presented by Prime Minister Koizumi to abandon the requirement of maintaining the paternal line.

Those claiming for change seem to base their arguments on two factors. One is that as the youngest prince with the succession right is already 41-years of age while possibilities of birth of a male in the whole Royal family ever diminishing, something has to be done eventually, and if so why not now. The other reason seem to base loosely on the notion of gender equality, that as it has already become the norm of the society, maintaining the distinction of gender in the Imperial household is somewhat awkward.

This second reason, the idea of gender equality, is easy to sell, especially to foreigners and those - in fact majority of the Japanese people until very recently - who are unfamiliar to the depth and intricacy of the issue. But those who oppose the change point to the fact that the idea of gender equality has been accepted only for a century at most. (An indicator might be women's voting rights which New Zealand was the first to allow in 1893, to be followed by the U.S. only in 1920 and the U.K. in 1926 - in Japan, it was 1945 - mere 60 years ago.) They claim this is hardly comparable to the 1.5 thousand years' history (or up to 2.5 thousand years depending on how much of the legend of earlier times are counted in) which Japan's Imperial - paternal - line has been maintained. It is true that there were eight female emperors in the past, but all of them belonged to the paternal line of earlier (male) emperors, and none of the heirs of these female emperors acceded to the throne. Furthermore, the opposers say, there have been a number of cases where emperors chosen were several generations apart from any previous emperors even when the emperor at the time had many female children, pointing to the determination and the effort of the people in the course of history to maintain the paternal line. (Do you know what your grand (x5)-father was doing?)

In addition, it has been pointed out that some of the fundamental rights as provided in the Constitution for the ordinary Japanese people are denied for the royal family. The members of the royal family are not recorded on the census register where every Japanese citizen is supposed to be listed, they are not allowed to adopt children, they have no voting rights, and they are explicitly forbidden to express anything related to "political affairs." These characteristics unique to the Royal family show that they do not have "human rights" as naively perceived in the "modern" world. The fact suggests the application of the notion of gender-equality on affairs of the Royal family may be inappropriate.

As a matter of fact, the polls show as more people recognize the proposed revision not only allows for female emperors but also changes the rules observed so strictly for millenniums, and once changed it would be practically irreversible, they have become increasingly cautious. Are they scared? May be. But more people are beginning to think a little more time is necessary to make up their minds, the results of which their descendents could praise or denounce centuries - or millenniums - later.

That was just when 39-year old Princes Kiko, wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Prince Akishino - who is the second in line of succession according to current law, was announced to be in the early stages of pregnancy. There are many who were relieved to learn the decision on the issue could be postponed, for several months if not longer. Indeed, one of those sighed with relief could be Prime Minister Koizumi himself.

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