U.N. panel drops criticism of Japan’s male-only Imperial lineage after Tokyo protests


Staff Writer

A United Nations committee agreed to remove criticism of Japan’s male-only Imperial succession from a report this week after Tokyo complained, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.

In the final report, released Monday, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women highlighted problems faced by women in Japan.

An earlier draft, shown to Japanese officials over the weekend, contained criticism of the 1947 Imperial House Law, which allows only a male to succeed the Chrysanthemum throne, Suga said, when questioned about media reports on the matter.

“We requested that the descriptions of the Imperial House Law be deleted,” Suga said.

He said “it’s obvious” that the succession system is not designed to discriminate against women.

“The Imperial system of our country and the royal systems of various countries have always been based on popular support and reflect the history and traditions of each country.”

Suga added, Japanese officials told the committee it was “absolutely inappropriate” to take issue with the Imperial House Law.

The U.N. committee is the body of experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Whether a woman should be allowed to reign is a politically controversial issue in Japan.

Conservative, right-leaning politicians and scholars have argued that the male-only system should be maintained both to retain the blood lineage of the Imperial family and to uphold a sense of traditional values in society.

However, a 2012 poll by Japan Association for Public Opinion Research, which is affiliated with Kyodo News, showed 65 percent of 1,793 respondents said a female member of the Imperial family should be allowed to reign as Empress. Only 23 percent said they oppose it.

There has been a sea change in public opinion on this in recent years. A 1984 poll by the same institute found that only 25.4 percent of men and 28.2 percent of women believed an Empress should be allowed to reign.

Support surged over the next two decades, as a 2005 poll by JAPOR showed that 77 percent of males and 85.4 percent of females believed a female should be allowed to rise to the Imperial throne.

Japan is believed to have had eight reigning Empresses in ancient times, but none of their children succeeded the throne and succession always reverted to a male in the male line.

There were no written rules mandating succession for males until 1889, when the previous Imperial House Law was enacted.

  • Ahojanen

    An ideologically-driven feminist view aside, I still find it highly debatable for the sake of survival of the imperial house. Technically, a woman like Pricess Aiko can rise to the throne (but not succeeded by her kid if respectful of the male only linage rule). Back in history there were female emperial leaders, many of them were not at all extraordinary.

    Under the current system, the imperial house is under downsizing threat, at worst, extinction as their female members will have to leave after getting married. It’s not eminent but highly likely unless one take any reform. If you insist on the male linage, the problem must be solved either by revival of polygamy or through aid of some bio-technologies such as designer babies. Here the central question is, can we Japanese subjects (!) approve of it?

    So far we have a young Prince Hisahito of Akishinonomiya who is expected to grow up healthy and active for family enlargement; if he isn’t, that would be very critical. His partner will also have to be cooperative and very “productive” of childbirth…. isn’t there any basic human rights or freedom of family building?

    I believe that the blood is NOT necessarily the sole identifier having legitimated the imperial house. Their century-long surviving traditions are more multi-facet and intangible. Some scholars even argue that the continuity by the straightforward male linage is myth as a number of “dubious” successions had occurred. While with respect leaving the matter to the imperial couple and family members, we never have to taboo open discussions and inquiries, which can raise our awareness and eventually support the house.

  • Aoi Komori

    Why don’t you ask the reason that the Pope is just a male?
    Tenno is the top of Shito. So there is complicated rule.
    Not female discrimination.

    • Jonathan Fields

      Yeah, he’s the top of Shito all right.

    • Philosopher

      The fact that only men can head Shinto shrines is also the result of discrimination against women. Japan has had ten empresses in the past so the situation of having an empress who wasn’t the “top of Shi(n)to” or having an empress and a female leader of Shinto before.

      The male-only imperial lineage law only dates back a hundred years or so. Perhaps it was brought in at a time when Japanese women were agitating for gender equity.

      • Aoi Komori

        My English is not good. So I think I can’t tell you well. However.
        “The fact that only men can head Shinto shrines is also the result of discrimination against women.”
        The Pope is only a male. But who protest it? Or, do you have racism? You seem not know the different between the early Japan and modern Japan and Today’s Japan. So I think you can’t understand about Japanese Imperial family. In the sometimes of early Japan, Imperial family was affected by Shinto rather than Buddhism. Please research.
        “The male-only imperial lineage law only dates back a hundred years or so.”
        Some people says wrong things about the Imperial Household Law. Until end of WWII, Japanese Diet or politicians couldn’t interfere anything about the law of Imperial household system without laws were or not.
        Japanese people respected the choice by members of Imperial family. That just was Japanese traditional system for imperial succession.
        Maybe, I will not reply to you again because I can’t tell any more.

  • starlightshimmers

    I respect the Japanese Imperial family, but it is utterly ridiculous that the modern laws only allow for male succession when historically there had been around half a dozen female empresses in Japan. Regarding the Shinto religion, as far as I’m concerned there is no restriction for a woman to serve as the head priestess, after all the Ise Shrine in Japan has always had a female priestess of the Imperial line and not to mention Amaterasu, perhaps the most revered Shinto dieity, is a female.