Priests oppose allowing women on the throne

by Reiji Yoshida

About 700 representatives of the country’s 80,000 Shinto shrines came together Thursday to oppose a government plan to allow women and their descendants to ascend the Imperial throne.

In a meeting held to defend what they believe is the dignity of the Imperial family, the representatives adopted a resolution opposing a government-sponsored bill scheduled to be submitted to the next ordinary session of the Diet starting Friday.

The content of the bill, which is still under discussion, would likely allow women and their descendants to ascend to the throne.

After the meeting in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, the representatives met lawmakers and presented them with petition asking them not to support the bill.

Thursday’s meeting was organized by Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership (SASL), an affiliate of Jinjahoncho, a national association of shrines.

The association claims the bill would terminate the bloodline of the Imperial family and damage national respect for the throne.

“Only praying inside the torii will not change the social situation,” said SASL Chairman Yoshinori Miyazaki at the start of the meeting.

In prewar Japan, Shinto was designated the state religion and its strong mythical ties with the Imperial family were emphasized.

SASL’s priority is to maintain the dignity of the Imperial family, according to the participants in the meeting.

In November, an advisory panel to the government submitted a report recommending females and their descendants be allowed to assume the throne and calling for a bill authorizing the change.

But the Shinto priests condemned the report, arguing its conclusions are based solely on the modern conception of gender equality, with little consideration of the centuries-old tradition of the paternal bloodline of the Imperial family.

“We cannot help harboring deep concerns,” Miyazaki told the meeting.

In the Jan. 9 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju, Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, expressed concern that the Imperial family would become no different from ordinary families if a ruling empress could marry commoners and her descendants be allowed to assume the throne.

Some lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party have similar concerns.

“I don’t think the (female-line emperor) bill is such an urgent issue that we should take it up in the ordinary session,” LDP Executive Council Chairman Fumio Kyuma reportedly said Jan. 13.