No big surprise, though. I'm sure this decision is a great weight off the public's shoulders.
Female monarchs get green light
Move clears way for Aiko to become reigning empress
The Japan Times
November 25, 2005
A government panel on Imperial succession concluded Thursday that females and their descendants should be allowed to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The move paves the way for 3-year-old Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, to become Japan's first female monarch since the 18th century.
The panel's final report on the matter, submitted to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said the Emperor's firstborn child, regardless of gender, should be next in line to the throne.
"To reach a conclusion here has the aspect of opening a new page in our nation's history, and I feel a heavy responsibility," Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, head of the panel, told a news conference.
The proposal is designed to forestall an expected succession crisis in the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.
"We have considered (the issue) from the recognition that it is most important that the Emperor system, which has continued from ancient times in hereditary succession, be stably maintained in the future and that is many people's hope," the report says.
Accordingly, the government plans to submit a bill to revise the current Imperial House Law to the Diet next spring, a government official said.
The law, enacted in 1947, allows only male heirs who have emperors on their father's side to reign.
The 10-member panel started debating the issue in January; no male heir has been born to the royal family since 1965 and it is thought that Crown Princess Masako, a 41-year-old former diplomat, is suffering from stress due to pressure to bear a male heir.
Some academics have joined Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, in complaining that allowing the child of a female monarch to reign would represent a break with history.
According to these critics, the Imperial succession has been preserved for more than 2,000 years in a male line, with the throne passed down only to heirs with emperors on their father's side.
But the report concludes that ensuring stable succession through the male-line tradition will be "extremely difficult" due to the rapid decline in the nation's birthrate and the end of the concubine system, which had helped preserve the tradition prior to 1947.
It adds that clinging to male-line succession would endanger the basic tradition of "hereditary succession," as stated in the Constitution.
"What is important nowadays is not the difference of gender or whether it is a male or female line, but if (the heir) has been born as an Imperial family member or if (the heir) has been brought up in the Imperial Household," the panel said.
The panel concluded that "the legitimacy (of the Emperor) will not weaken as long as succession by the Imperial line is maintained and the system is supported by the public widely" under the present Constitution, which recognizes the Emperor as a symbol of the state.
It added that there is a basis in public opinion for accepting the reign of female monarchs and their descendants, citing changes in attitude toward the family and the role of men and women in society. In addition, recent opinion polls have shown broad support for the introduction of female monarchs, it said.
"Of course there is an important meaning in the Imperial system's unique tradition and convention, but it should not be forgotten that it is also important that (the new succession system) should be in line with the public's concept of values," it said.
When the report's proposals are applied to the current Imperial family, the number of those qualified to ascend to the throne increases from six to 14.
Regarding the proposal that the Emperor's firstborn child would be granted priority in the order of succession, the panel said this is an easy-to-understand system, adding that the public would be able to watch the heir grow up from childhood with the expectation that he or she would eventually become Emperor.
An interim report issued in July suggested that former Imperial branch families that were divested of royal status in 1947 could return to the Imperial Household as a means of preserving the male-line tradition.
But the final report rules this option out, saying it would struggle to win public support as former branch families have been living as commoners for nearly 60 years.
It also states that this scenario would destabilize the succession process as a return to Imperial family status would be contingent on the decisions of the people concerned.
The panel also proposed legal revisions that would allow female Imperial members to marry commoners without necessarily relinquishing their royal status, as is currently the case. Their husbands and children should be included in the Imperial family, it said.
To secure a stable number of heirs while preventing a large increase in the number of Imperial family members, the panel concluded it is best to maintain the current Imperial status secession system, with a revision to treat male and female members equally.
Under the proposal, Imperial family members other than the heir to the throne and the eldest grandchild of the Emperor can be removed from the household for "compelling reasons."
They will be able to secede from the family, following approval by the Imperial Household Council, whose members include Imperial family members and the prime minister.
Panel goals at a glance
The following are key proposals advocated by a government panel on Imperial succession:
* The swift introduction of an appropriate Imperial succession system, which should be adopted following comprehensive consideration of whether it is supported by the public, based on tradition, and whether it is stable.
* The expansion of the pool of candidates who could accede to the throne to include female Imperial family members and their children.
* The granting of priority status to the Emperor's firstborn child in the succession order.
* The retention of female Imperial family members' royal titles after they marry commoners and the inclusion of their husbands and children as royal family members.
* The retention of current rules limiting the size of the Imperial family by allowing certain members to be removed from the family for compelling reasons or voluntarily.
Imperial succession -- the facts
The following are key facts concerning the issue of Imperial succession:
* The postwar version of the Imperial House Law, enacted in 1947, stipulates that only male heirs who have emperors on their father's side can ascend to the Imperial throne.
* Crown Prince Naruhito, 45, is first in line to the throne. His 39-year-old brother, Prince Akishino, is second; Prince Hitachi, 69, brother of Emperor Akihito, is third; Prince Mikasa, 89, an uncle of the Emperor, is fourth; Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, 59, a cousin of the Emperor, is fifth; and Prince Katsura, 57, another cousin of the Emperor, is sixth.
* If the law is revised on the basis of the final report by a government panel, the succession order would be as follows: Crown Prince Naruhito; his 3-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko; Prince Akishino; Prince Akishino's elder daughter, Princess Mako, 14; his younger daughter, Princess Kako, 10; Prince Hitachi; Prince Mikasa; Prince Tomohito of Mikasa; Prince Tomohito of Mikasa's elder daughter, Princess Akiko, 23; his younger daughter, Princess Yoko, 22; Prince Katsura; Princess Tsuguko, 19, the eldest daughter of the late Prince Takamado, the Emperor's cousin; the late prince's second daughter, Princess Noriko, 17; and his third daughter, Princess Ayako, 15.
* Without revising the law, Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, 41, and her future children would not be allowed to ascend to the throne.
* If Princess Aiko were to marry a commoner and ascend to the throne, the couple's child, regardless of sex, would be the first Emperor or reigning Empress to have no Emperor on his or her father's side, a scenario experts say has never before occurred.
* The reigning empresses were enthroned to prevent a succession break in emergencies, such as when a crown prince was too young to reign or was forced to postpone enthronement.
It's always pleasing to see "hallowed" traditions evolve with the times. (Heck, if religion evolved with the times, we wouldn't have Judeo-Christianity at war with itself.) And, ironically, in changing with the times, they are relinquishing the recent past in favor of the distant past. 'Cause, after all, there were women on the Japanese throne before; the obsession with male-only succession really only solidified in the wake of Japan's contact with the West--in other words, they hardened the patriarchal line in order to impress us.
In fact, up until the Meiji Period, it was totally kosher for a man to marry into a woman's family and take her name. This was often done amongst the commoners; a family without sons would locate a suitable heir to the family business and marry him to their daughter, thereby adopting him into the family.