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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #362: September 7, 2006

Relief Dawns on Japan as Imperial Son Arrives at Last

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Relief Dawns on Japan as Imperial Son Arrives at Last
(Deborah Cameron) Sydney Morning Herald


A housewife in the article was cited as saying, "a baby is always wonderful." It certainly is, and this one is a bit special. Princess Akishino (Kiko), gave birth to a male boy who immediately became the third in the succession line to the throne.

There were six "princes" until the arrival of the baby who were eligible to succeed the throne including the heir apparent Crown Prince Naruhito. But the concern was their age. Among the six, the eldest, a brother of the late Emperor Showa and the only surviving uncle of the Emperor, was 90 years old, and the youngest was Prince Akishino (Fumihito) himself, the father of the newborn baby, at 40. (Just by way of clarification, Akishino is the reigning name of the couple, whose personal (given) names are Fumihito and Kiko.) Now that the youngest heir has been reset to the age of zero, many feel relieved that the Imperial line, continuing already for at least a millennium and a half, is now secure, at least for a few decades to come.

The Imperial Household Law stipulates in its first article that the throne shall be succeeded by "a male descended from an emperor through the paternal line." (Contrary to the explanation in the article introduced above,) there were eight female emperors in the past, long before the current rule was established. 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, there have been a number of cases where new emperors chosen were several generations and degrees of kinship apart from the abdicated emperor even when there were many females more closely related. This seems to indicate the determination of the people in the course of history to maintain the paternal line. In fact, through the discussions last year, there was not much opposition in having a female emperor, but it was the proposal of departing from the paternal line principle where the arguments bogged down.

The plan to revise the Law was proposed by Prime Minister Koizumi in December 2004. But his motive for tabling the discussion was not necessarily in line with the notion of gender equality, but rather to cope with the realistic possibility of losing the heir to the throne in the near future. (During the 40 years without a having male baby, there were nine girls born, including Princess Aiko, the daughter of the Crown Prince and Princess, in the Imperial Family. All of them would become eligible successors if they had been males. )

The argument, however, subsided in February because Mr Koizumi quit seeking early solution to the issue, inspired by - though never explicitly stated - Princess Kiko's conception. And now, actually seeing the baby boy, the issue of Imperial succession is considered to have become less of an emergency.

That said, the situation is very fragile. At the moment, a lot depends on the growth, and also the "fertility," of the baby just born. In order to more safely secure the future successions of the throne, reform of the Law will undoubtedly be needed. (Also, it might worth confirming it is too obvious for the vast majority of the Japanese people that the Imperial system would - should - continue forever.)

The practice of taking concubines ended when the late Emperor Showa refused to take one. And it is impossible to revive it now is too unrealistic which also may invite the people's resentment. Female emperors may be an option but it would inevitably run into the chaos of arguments on the paternal line principle. Expansion of the extent of the Imperial family may be considered. In fact, there were 67 members in the family at the end of WWII, which was slashed in 1947 by the occupation forced led by the U.S., to 16 and also limited the range of kinship who would belong to the family. But inviting new member to join the family may not be easy considering the sentiment of the people.

The newborn Prince has provided time to perform soul-searching for the people, which should lead to calm and constructive discussions on how to secure the future of the Imperial line.

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