With the eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito set to become a commoner and he, himself, on his way out, threat looms on the future of the over-2,000-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne
By Ratnadeep Choudhary
Princess Mako, the eldest granddaughter of Japanese emperor Akihito, who at 83 years of age is planning to abdicate his throne, is set to marry a commoner. Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Friday approved a bill which, if passed, will allow him to step down as emperor. He has cited poor health as the reason behind his decision.
Princess Mako will marry Kei Komuro who holds a position in a law firm and once worked as the “Prince of the Sea” to bolster tourism in Japan. The two fell in love while studying at International Christian University in Tokyo five years ago. However, after the knot is tied, life would change dramatically for Princess Mako. Even if she has a male child, he would not be accorded royal status.
Interestingly, being the oldest of her generation (she is 1991-born), Princess Mako would have become empress had the patrilineal system not been followed to determine the heir to the throne.
According to Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Princess Mako is currently the patron of two organizations and has travelled overseas as member of the royal family to attend important imperial functions. She works as a researcher in a museum at the University of Tokyo.
The imperial household law of Japan, dated 1947, states that women must leave their princely status and live the life of a commoner, should they marry outside royalty. They must also leave the royal household, post marriage, whether they marry a commoner or a prince. This law was enacted with a view to reduce the expenditure of the post-World War II royal household.
In the present imperial household, there are six women who are unmarried and under the age of 30. Their being excised from the family tree only increases the burden of keeping alive the world’s oldest monarchy for the remaining members.
The Japanese royal family—which is over 2,000 years old—traces its origin to the sun goddess Amaterasu. The family right now has only three males, and 14 females. Akihito has four grandchildren of whom only one is male—10-year-old Prince Hishahito.
After Akihito, who will become the second emperor in Japanese history to step down (the first being Emperor Kokaku in 1817), Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, will sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne. Prince Hishahito is the next heir to the throne. As Princess Mako is female, despite being eldest, she is out of the succession race. Does this make sense, both from the point of history as well as equality?
One recalls how high society frowned on the Harvard-educated Crown Princess Masako Owada for being taller than her husband and how she had to give up her career to marry Prince Naruhito in 1993.
Their daughter, 14-year-old Aiko, too, is being deprived of the throne under the male-only inheritance laws. Prince Hishahito is the son of the second prince, Fumihito. Princess Mako is Prince Fumihito’s eldest.
Yet, the right-of-centre Japanese government, which has right-wing nationalist outfits as allies, is staunchly against the idea of a woman sitting on a throne. Professor Ken Ruoff, director of the Centre for Japanese Studies at Portland State University, has said: “This is what the nationalists seize upon and they actually will say things like if the male bloodline is broken, and then Japan ceases to exist”.
However, public support is tipped in favour of women inheriting the throne. According to a survey carried out by Kyodo News, 86 percent are okay with having a female emperor. Thus there is a significant difference between the government’s position and public opinion on the matter.
In fact, the government was close to changing the law before the birth of Price Hishahito due to the succession crisis. Princess Aiko was pipped as the next in line for the throne. However, after his birth, the idea was abandoned.
Incidentally, Princess Mako’s paternal aunt, Princess Sayako, has also married a commoner and now lives as one in a one-bedroom flat. However, she was given 100 million yen to start her new life by the Japanese government. This is the second time in public recall that a Japanese princess is doing a reverse Cinderella.
It is high time the archaic laws of Japanese royal succession and inheritance change and give way to a more egalitarian system. What say, folks?
Photo courtesy: The Royal Family of Bhutan/Facebook