Learning With: ‘Emperor Akihito, Who Gave Japan’s Monarchy a Human Face, Abdicates Throne’

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Learning With: ‘Emperor Akihito, Who Gave Japan’s Monarchy a Human Face, Abdicates Throne’

Add to your chart: What else have you learned about Akihito and Japan’s imperial family? What else are you still curious about?

A royal engagement typically unleashes breathless headlines and frenzied efforts by the press to learn of the wedding details. All that is happening in Japan, where Princess Mako, the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito, will soon be engaged to her college boyfriend.

But news of the impending engagement, which broke Tuesday night, is also raising fresh questions about the status of women in the imperial family.

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of emperors in Japan’s monarchy, the world’s oldest, women are not allowed to reign on the throne. And women born into the royal family must officially leave it once they marry. …

The public overwhelmingly supports changing the law not only to allow the emperor to give up the throne, but to allow female successors. In a poll by Kyodo News this month, 86 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of allowing a female to reign. And close to two-thirds said that sons — or daughters — born of royal women should also be allowed to ascend to the throne.

Under the current law, even if the princess, the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, the younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito, were allowed to remain within the imperial family after she marries, her children — even any sons — would not be in line to the throne. That is because the law requires that the line of succession pass only through the men of the family …

Given how short the line of succession has become, imperial family watchers say that the law should be reformed to allow for more heirs.

“Now we all know that an important imperial family member will be lost with the engagement of Princess Mako,” said Isao Tokoro, professor emeritus of legal history at Kyoto Sangyo University and an expert on the imperial family system. “It is urgent that the system should be reformed so that female members can remain in the imperial family. Otherwise, we will lose more and more members from the imperial family.”

Because the role of Japan’s emperor is largely symbolic — he acts as a figurehead with no real political power — is the imperial system even worth maintaining? In your opinion, what value, if any, does this symbolic role have today?