Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Setting Japan Straight with a Woman Emperor
STILLMAN Mikie  / Senior Fellow, Institute for International Policy Studies

November 19, 2004
In a recent international symposium, a young American academic was invited as a speaker. 'I have had the distinction of being presented to Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan.', this speaker noted at the end of his CV. Perhaps he thought that the Emperor held such a special place in the Japanese people's hearts and commanded such respect that we couldn't help but be impressed by his revelation.

Having been born in a republican country that has broken away from the sovereign state of England does not imply that all Americans are liberals without much interest in tradition. Japanese views on the imperial system are likewise various. The fact that the Japanese support a system of hereditary succession despite the more liberated atmosphere of the 21st century is not only because of the general national tendency towards conservatism and traditionalism. I would think that the support is due, rather, from both our sense of appreciation and apology in view of the circumstances that members of the imperial family agree to undertake their succession notwithstanding the requirement to relinquish basic human rights such as the right to vote, freedom of choice in employment, and freedom of expression.

The current Imperial House Law stipulates that a male descendant of a male line is to ascend the imperial throne. For some quirk of fate, the imperial households--including the family of the Crown Prince--have seen a succession of female births; Prince Akishino, the youngest candidate for the imperial throne is already thirty-nine years old. From the possible risk of an end to the imperial line has sprung forth endless debate on the subject amongst the Japanese. One proposal suggested that Prince Akishino's wife, younger than the Crown Princess, might be kind enough to bear another child: this, in spite of the lack of any guarantee that the child should be a boy. Another proposal has been to revive branches of the imperial line that have been abolished, thereby increasing the stock of male descendants within the imperial family.

The preoccupation with male heirs despite the presence of Princess Aiko, the imperial princess to the Crown Prince's family, makes sense to people who choose to emphasize that the few female emperors within the imperial lineage of 125 generations were not only of male lines, but also mere stand-ins until the throne could safely be handed back to males of male lines even if they be of collateral branches. Japanese imperial genealogy is based on Kojiki (A Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan) that put together myths, legends, and records of imperial matters. According to these writings, Emperor Jimmu, the very first emperor, could trace three-quarters of his ancestry to shark; in further going up the family tree from shark, one would finally reach Amaterasu-omikami, the Sun Goddess. The line then is a female one after all.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, drafted in the U.S. Constitution that all men and women are equal. Someone who claimed to be a descendant of the president and a slave was proven to be just so after Jefferson's grave was dug up for DNA analysis. Such things do not happen in Japan. Myths naturally tend to be vague; that there can be value to be found in the unverifiable is the same for the Bible and the Koran. But it is rather absurd that, as a result, people in the real world run about to find male heirs of imperial male lineage at whatever the costs. It all comes about from trying to match reality to myth. Doubtless an unbroken royal lineage of 125 generations is unrivalled anywhere else and we can take pride in this. But we must not forget that what has made this lineage possible in the first place was a system of concubinage unacceptable in the framework of present-day morality. There is even opinion that a female emperor would be unsuitable because it would be difficult to find a husband for her: as if the Crown Prince didn’t have a hard time finding his princess.

President Bush has cleared out al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, and females were again given educational opportunities. Under the new constitution, women in postwar Japan acquired the right to vote, and went on to enjoy freedom and prosperity. Having been born and raised in such an age for women, and having studied from both Harvard and Tokyo University, Princess Masako is quite possibly the most accomplished crown princess in the world. Imperial Princess Aiko is the fortunate offspring of this Crown Princess who is much-loved by her husband the Crown Prince. The only thing that stands in the way of this person directly in line to the imperial throne is an article in the Imperial House Law that is amendable by parliamentary majority. Opinion polls show that roughly 70% of the public stand behind the idea of a female emperor. If the matter in question is interwoven with constitutional reform, then all the revision needed is a new specification in the Constitution that stipulates that there is to be no gender bias concerning imperial succession.

Japanese policymakers dread the coming of an aging society with few children. In a bid to induce women to have more children, these legislators have their hands full with measures for such matters as day-care centres. The very same policymakers then go on to complain when the long-awaited offspring of the Crown Prince and Princess turn out to be a girl, and are thrown into a panic at the thought that she would not be able to inherit the throne. By choosing not to have children, Japanese women are waging a silent war against the kind of mind-set that appraises the value of a princess or a woman on whether she has been able to bear male offspring.

The establishment of a female emperor would be an ideal opportunity to set Japan straight. The men who lead the militaristic state of Japan are still being held responsible for the most recent war. The birth of a female emperor would send out the message that Japan is no longer living in the 20th century, but have been reincarnated as a peaceful, democratic, free, and prosperous country where both men and women have equal rights to enjoy life.

For further information about the Imperial Family of Japan, please consult the official homepage of the Imperial Household Agency.

The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute for International Policy Studies.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

スティルマン美紀恵 / 世界平和研究所 主任研究員

2004年 11月 19日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Setting Japan Straight with a Woman Emperor