Imperial succession proposals in conflict

by Shinya Ajima

Kyodo News

The government’s interim report on Imperial succession Tuesday offers two conflicting proposals, despite its earlier enthusiasm to make history by backing the idea of a reigning female monarch.

The advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in the report that Japan should accept female monarchs or allow male members of former Imperial branch families to return to Imperial status through adoption or marriage to ensure a “stable succession.”

The Imperial House Law allows only males to reign, but no male heir has been born to the Imperial family in the last 40 years.

“This report does not mean we are moving toward one certain result,” said Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, a former University of Tokyo president who heads the 10-member panel.

The comment marked an apparent step back for Yoshikawa, who initially indicated he was determined to bring reform to the Imperial succession process.

“We will address this issue while saying to ourselves that we are going to make history,” Yoshikawa said when the panel was launched six months ago.

In March, he said there was no reason for Japan to stick to the current system, which allows only male heirs from the male line in the Imperial family to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

“There are no proper historical documents that clearly explain why the male line has been favored,” said Yoshikawa, who also studies robotics.

But contrary to his comments, the interim report gives consideration to various views.

The interim report came after the panel’s hearings in May and June, at which eight experts on Imperial affairs expounded their views.

Five supported female monarchs, two were opposed and one declined to take a position on the issue.

One of the opponents, Hidetsugu Yagi, an associate professor at Takasaki City University of Economics, said that succession only along the male line, supposedly dating back 26 centuries, is part of Japan’s “irreplaceable culture.”

Of the 125 reigning monarchs in Japanese history, including those of legend, there were eight females between the sixth and 18th centuries. Two of them reigned twice under different names.

But historians say they were enthroned to prevent a break in the succession in emergencies, such as when a crown prince was too young to reign or was forced to postpone enthronement for political reasons.

Emperor Akihito and other Imperial family members have no say in the ongoing discussion by the panel because the Constitution bans them from undertaking any political activities.

Instead, the Imperial Household Agency, a government body responsible for the personal, ceremonial and official affairs of the family, has paid close attention to the discussion.

“If we are to maintain the current succession system, it will put an end to the Imperial family,” a senior agency official said on condition of anonymity. “We want the panel to understand this and discuss how to address such a situation, rather than just arguing what is correct or wrong.”

The issue of whether to allow the Imperial family to continue to exist remains contentious in Japan after World War II, giving another twist to debates on Imperial succession.

Yasuhiro Okudaira, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, criticized the panel, saying, “People can easily guess how the panel will conclude its discussions.”

The legal expert is critical of those who blindly opt to enable females to succeed to the throne in a bid to maintain the Imperial system.

“People should discuss the question of whether the Imperial system itself should exist before they discuss if a female monarch is to be allowed,” Okudaira said.

Some Japanese are strongly opposed to the maintenance of the Imperial system, mainly citing the late Emperor Show, known in the West as Hirohito, whom they see as responsible for Japan’s militarism before and during the war.

Meanwhile, Hiroshi Takahashi, a professor at Shizuoka University of Welfare, said the panel is “largely” inclined to allow a female monarch.

“We have Princess Aiko. It is unrealistic to adopt a boy to preserve the male line of descent by disregarding her,” said Takahashi, one of the five experts who approved of a reigning empress at the hearing.

The 3-year-old princess is the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito, who is first in line to the throne, and Crown Princess Masako.

The little princess has been increasingly exposed to public attention, especially since the panel was launched.

Princess Aiko cannot succeed to the throne under the current Imperial House Law and neither can her future children — regardless of their gender.

The panel’s final report, to be issued by late fall, might allow the enthronement of a person who has emperors only on his or her mother’s side.

This story would be more complicated because Japan has never had such an emperor in its history. All of the past eight reigning empresses were related to emperors through their fathers’ lines.

“Now the focus is shifting to how public opinion reacts to the panel’s interim report,” Takahashi said.