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Seventy-five years have passed since women were granted the right to vote in Japan. At the time, the Nippon Times (as the JT was then known) published a first-hand account by Tsugi Shiraishi of what it was like to cast her ballot for the first time.

Fast-forward to 2021 and Japan continues to lag much of the world in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest gender-gap rankings, coming in a lowly 120th, below China, South Korea and the other six G7 nations.

Continued poor performance in narrowing the gap was highlighted recently when sexist remarks were made by a former prime minister leading Tokyo’s Olympic committee. Just last week, only men were initially set to be allowed to board a traditional boat to be used in the torch relay next Tuesday, until local officials relented on Friday after criticism. Women are normally prohibited from getting in the Chintoro boat, which is used in a local festival dating back to the Edo Period.

As things stand, Princess Mako (left) and Princess Kako will lose their royal status if they marry commoners. | IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY / VIA KYODO
As things stand, Princess Mako (left) and Princess Kako will lose their royal status if they marry commoners. | IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY / VIA KYODO

Traditions by their nature come from more unequal times, but there’s nothing like sheer, desperate necessity to force change in what were once seen as immovable institutions.

Take the issue of paternal-line male succession in Japan’s imperial family. Due to a dearth of heirs, the unbroken line of emperors, which is said to stretch back millenia, could end in the near future unless the government acts swiftly.

With the future of the imperial line under threat, a government panel is finally being forced to discuss the possibility of allowing women to (again) ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne, among other things. If change could happen at the very, very top, that would send a powerful message.

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