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Japan: Controversy over Imperial Succession

On the 1st of December, the seventh birthday of Princess Aiko (official title: 敬宮愛子内親王殿下, Toshi no miya Aiko naishinnō denka) [en], while the mainstream media in Japan were busy reporting that the princess had a cold and could not attend a birthday party organized in her honour, some bloggers were writing instead about the succession controversy [en].

After Princess Aiko was born in 2001, the question of a possible Empress and the acceptance of a cognatic primogeniture[en] were thoroughly debated by politicians, opinion-leaders and ordinary people. The possibility of a revision to the Imperial Household Law, which since 1947 has disallowed women from becoming Empress, was even discussed by then-PM Koizumi, attracting criticism from many in the country. Although the issue was on the verge of bringing a change to — or at least spark debate about — the outdated Imperial system, however, it has almost completely disappeared from the media and public debate since the birth of a boy in the Imperial Family. Prince Hisahito(悠仁親王, Hisahito shinnō), son of the Crown Prince's younger brother Akishino, was born in 2006. Despite being taken for granted by many that Hisahito-sama is the only likely candidate to succeed to the Imperial Throne, however, the fact that some Japanese bloggers decided to take up this question demonstrates that the issue may not be so clear-cut after all.


An animated parody by id: GreatMarta, which sums up the Imperial Succession Controversy.

Blogger Nôzan (ノーザン) at Nôzan no chotto shita hanashi (ノーザンのちょっとした話) describes the political debate concerning revision to the Imperial Household Law and the cultural background necessary to understand why so many people were against it.

愛子さまが誕生されてからは愛子さまが将来は皇室を継ぐものと私は考えていた。
しかしそこには男尊女卑の時代に作られた皇室典範や古くから(いにしえの時代)からある頭の堅い慣習が立ちふさがった。

When Aiko-sama was born I thought that in the future she would inherit the imperial throne. The Imperial Household Law, however, enacted in an age when male chauvenism enjoyed great favour, as well as rigid customs from ancient times (from the Inishie era), presented obstacles [to this development].

実際、小泉政権時に郵政民営化とともに女性への皇位継承を認めるため皇室典範の改正についても議論がされていた。
郵政民営化の際に野田聖子氏等一部の国会議員や特定郵便局に関係ある人間が反対を唱えたが皇室典範の改正は郵政民営化とは比較にならないほどの反対運動があった。平沼赳夫氏をはじめとする女性への皇位継承に反対する超党派の勢力があった他、国民の中にも女性への皇位継承に反対という姿勢の人間がいた。

Actually, during Koizumi’s premiership, together with the privatization of the Postal system, there was a political debate about reforming the Imperial Household Law in order to admit inheritance to the imperial throne by female heirs. On that occasion, Seiko Noda (野田聖子) and other politicians as well as people involved with small post offices raised their voices in opposition to privatization of the postal system, but that was nothing compared to the protest against reform of the Imperial Household Law. Besides strong support for this protest against the succession of a female heir by those who do not belong to any party — Takeo Hiranuma (平沼赳夫), for example — the protest was also supported by many Japanese citizens.

[…]

ただ悠仁さまが誕生した事により下手をすれば国家を二分し兼ねない皇室典範の改正論議に一度ピリオドが打たれた事だけは確かである。ただこれで問題の根本は解決していない。なぜなら今後産まれてくる皇族の方が男子とは限らないからである。

The dispute that caused the division of the Diet into two groups [for and against] reform of the Imperial House ended once Prince Hisahito was born. This problem, however, has not really been resolved; nobody knows for sure if male heirs will be born within the Imperial Family again in the future.

[…]

現状のままであれば40年から50年後に愛子さまか悠仁さまが天皇に即位されるであろう。しかしその後の皇室のためにも皇室典範の改正論議は急ぐべき事案であると考える。
私は皇室は長兄の子女である愛子様が皇族を継ぐべきであると考えている。

With things as they now stand, either Princess Aiko or Prince Hisahito will become Emperor in 40 or 50 years, but nonetheless I think that an actual proposal for revision of the Imperial Household Law is necessary immediately for the sake of the future of the Imperial Family.
I believe that the successor should be Princess Aiko, who is the daughter of the elder brother.

[…]

ただ日本は古来より男尊女卑が強いお国柄、国技相撲も女子は汚らわしき者として未だに土俵入りを禁じている。また同じように宮内庁等の日本の官僚・役人も頭が堅いのであろう。日本国憲法が制定され60年が経過するが未だに一つも改正されていない。時代のニーズに合わせた物が必要であるというのに固定観念から離れることができない。

Japan has always however been in essence a male-dominated society, to the point that women are still today not allowed to become sumo wrestlers because they are considered impure, and their entry into the ring is denied. The bureaucrats and the officers of the Imperial Household Agency are very rigid and the Japanese Constitution, 60 years after its promulgation, has never been revised. I am firmly convinced that renewal of [the system] according to the needs of the current era is unavoidable.

Among the Japanese bloggers who are against the matrilineal Imperial succession, many claim the genetic matter as being the main reason why the same genealogy should be maintained by choosing only male heirs. id:shirusu (シルス), for example, wrote about how she changed her mind from being pro a possible Empress to becoming contrary to this eventuality.

悠仁親王殿下の誕生で、一時期出ていた女系天皇議論はおさまって
いますね。私も実はその議論が出た当時は「それもいいじゃないか、過去にも
女性の天皇いたでしょう?」ぐらいに思っていたのです。若い頃は(当時すでに
全然若くないけど^^;)天皇家の大切さがよくわかっていなかったのです。
今後、もしまたその議論がもし出てきたなら、それは絶対だめ!!!!と反対
しますね。朝から晩までFAXメール送りまくり作戦です(笑)

With Prince Hisahito's birth the debate over matrilineal lineage is temporarily settled.
At the time when the issue first came out, I thought to myself: “That's alright, isn't it? After all, in the past there were Empresses, weren't there?” When I was young (I'm not so young anymore… ) I didn't understand the importance of the Imperial Household. If the same debate was to come up again the future, I would be absolutely against it!!!! And I would send faxes [to the Imperial Household Agency] non-stop from morning to night.

万世一系で累々と続いてきた天皇家を私たちの一存で変更しまうことは
絶対してはいけないことだと思います。[…] 2000年も一つの家系の王をいただいている国は世界中探してもないの
ですから・・・。フェミニズムで論じる輩もいるのですが(かつての私もそうだった)
フェミニズムはまったく関係ないのです。遺伝子の問題ですから(;´Д`)
総理大臣なら女性であろうとなんら問題はありませんが。

I think that we absolutely must not modify the Imperial Family that has carried on for thousands of generations so far. […] there is no country in the world that has a king whose dynasty has been the same for 2000 years… Many would argue with feminist theories (as I once did myself), but this question has nothing to do with feminism. It is a genetic matter.
Of course if a woman became Prime Minister, this would not be an issue at all.

Similarly, blogger Take (テイク)at Metaltake, claiming that today's Japanese Imperial Family members descend from a genetically uninterrupted dynasty, writes about the importance of perpetuating the imperial genealogy.

某週刊誌でこの話題を取り上げていて全く見当違いな事を言う論客ばっか取り上げていた。
その中で一番多い意見が「女性天皇を認めないのは女性差別だ」という意見。
俺も以前はそんな意見言ってましたが・・・・。
[…]
天皇家の重みと血の繋がりと歴史を軽く考えてたのかもしれない。

The weekly magazines that take up this subject used to analyse the question quoting only the positions of those who debate through the use of irrelevant arguments. The most common is the opinion of those who say, “Not accepting a woman as Emperor is sexist”.
I used to say the same thing, but…
[…]
Maybe I undervalued history and the connection between blood relations and the importance of the Imperial Dynasty.

まず天皇家の歴史ですが、紀元前660年2月11日に神武天皇が初代天皇として即位している。
それから2668年経った現在、ずっと男系天皇を守り、それが125代続いている。
その歴史の中で何度か女性天皇は誕生しています。
しかしその女性天皇の子供が天皇になる事はなかった。
何故かと言えばですが、昔で言えば伝統ある血統を天皇家以外の男の血で変える事を許さなかったなどがある。
今で言えば、愛子様が天皇になってお子様が生まれても次の天皇はそのお子様に継がせることはなく、秋篠宮悠仁親王が天皇になられるという事ですね。
ところで。Y染色体というのを御存知だろうか。

For a starter, history: Emperor Jinmu was the first to accede to the throne in 660 B.C., on the 11th of February.
The patrilinear lineage has been kept alive 2668 years up to today, continuing over 125 generations. In the past, many Empresses succeeded to the throne, but no child to them became Emperor.
That is because, in the ancient times, only men who had blood relations with the Imperial Family were allowed carry on the tradition and the genealogy. In modern times, if Pincess Aiko became Empress, her child wouldn't be able to succeed to the throne and Prince Akishino would become Emperor.
By the way, do you know what a Y chromosome is?

要するにY染色体とは男しか持っておらず、天皇家は長い間この染色体を維持してきた事になる。
そしてこのY染色体というのは、何万年経とうが引き継がれる限り変わる事はありません。

In a few words, only men have the Y chromosome and the Imperial Family has carried the same chromosome over a long period of time. So, as long as this Y chromosome is not changed, the millenary descent will continue.

[…]

そこでもし愛子様が天皇になった場合はどうなるでしょう。
将来御結婚なされて御子息が生まれた場合。男が生まれようが女が生まれようが、Y染色体が神武天皇のものから全く違う男性のY染色体に取って代わられてしまいます。
ここで何千年と続いていた天皇家の血筋は途絶えてしまう事になります。
これが「女“系”天皇」反対の理由です。
「女性天皇」は良いでしょう。
反対はしません。
しかしその後の天皇はどうするのかという議論がされていない。

And what if Pincess Aiko became Empress?
If in the future she got married and a child was born, no matter if it were a boy or a girl, he would have the Y chromosome inherited not from that Jinmu Emperor but from a completely unrelated man, and the lineage perpetrated for thousands of years would be interrupted.
This is why I am against the “matrilineal” succession. I am not against a “woman” emperor. But there has been no debate over what the next emperor would do.

天皇家の血筋と歴史を継続させるのか、はたまた断絶させて「天皇」という地位と称号だけ残すのか。
これは建国以来諸外国にはない世界で一番古い歴史を持つ日本の象徴の存続に関わる大問題だ。

Whether to keep uninterrupted the genealogy and the history, or to leave intact the position and the tile of “Emperor”interrupting it. This is the question.
This is the big issue that Japan has been concerned with since the nation was founded, and that deals with the continuance of [this nation's] symbol [i.e. the Imperial Family], which is unique and the oldest in the world.

On the other hand, blogger yoko davis, in the entry “Betraying history…?” [歴史を裏切る。。。?] posted a few months ago, expresses her opinion about the claim of uninterrupted descent and the necessity to change the system in accordance with the needs of the time.

この問題は、愛子さまの誕生、雅子さまの流産・適応障害から発生し、多くの日本人に天皇家とは何かと問いかけはじめたと思う。
残念ながら悠仁さまが産まれてから(どうあがいても当時の小泉首相の皇室典範の改正への計らいとしかいえないが)、世間からはこの問題を直視する機会が減ってきていると思う。メディアが取り上げなくなったからであろう。

This issue came out after Princess Aiko's birth, the abortion of Princess Masako [en] and her Adjustment Disorders, when many Japanese people started wondering about the meaning of the Imperial Household.
Unfortunately, after Prince Akishino’s Birth (despite the struggles, the proposal to reform the Imperial Household Law was thanks to then PM Koizumi), the chances for the public to hear about this issue decreased, probably because the media started not to care about it anymore.

しかし、日本人が見つめなければいけない問題は、メディアが騒ごうが騒ぐまいが存在する。

But there are issues that the Japanese people should consider, and they will remain whether or not the media makes a sensation out of them.

[…]

女系天皇に対し始めは反対だった私も、悠仁さまが生まれてから、変わった。なぜ40歳にもなった紀子様が男子を生んだのか。しかも小泉前首相が皇室典範に手を加えることを認可しようとしている真っ只中に。そして国民の誰もが、まだ生まれていない子供が男児であることを確信したはずである。でなければ、紀子様があの時期に子供を産む理由など、どこにもありはしないからだ。推測は証拠で証明されない限り推測に過ぎないのだろうが、私の推測に反対する人がいれば、その人はあまりに単純すぎる。

After Prince Hisahito’s birth, I, who was against the cognatic primogeniture, changed my mind. Why did the 40 y.o. Princess Kiko [Princess Hisashito's mother] give birth to a boy? And right in the middle of PM Koizumi’s trial to revise the Imperial Household Law. Besides, somebody did recognize the future born as a male. Otherwise, there would be no reason why she would have given birth to a child in that period. This is nothing but a personal speculation without any evidence, but I think that someone would have to be very naive to disagree with this conjecture.

天皇家は1500年(神道に基づき、日本国が誕生してから現在まで)の歴史があるという。しかしその間、どのようにして男系が保たれてきたかは、誰にもわか らない。判りようがないのである。それを一夫一婦の時代になっても保とうというのは、あまりにも無理があり過ぎないか?平成天皇から初めて民間からの皇后 選びとなって、天皇家は血の保存という概念を変えてきた。美智子様の時代から、多くの古典的な天皇家の子供たちの教育の仕方も変わってきた(乳母制度の廃 止など)。

The Imperial Household history goes back to 1500 years ago (from the birth of the Japanese Nation all the way to today, according to Shinto [Calendar]). However, nobody knows how it is that patrilinear lineage has been maintained this long. Isn’t [this interpretation] too forced? The concept of keeping intact the Imperial House’s blood has changed from the Heisei Emperor when a commoner was chosen as a member of the Family [i.e. actual Crown Princess Masako]. From Princess Michiko [en] [i.e. Empress Consort] on, the education of many children of the classic Imperial Family changed as well (the abolition of the nurse system etc.)

日本の皇室は、それに見合った速度で変化してきているのであろう。その歴史から閉鎖的な部分がぬぐえないが、それも日本の皇室を位置づけるものとして存在しても良いと思う。ただ、歴史に翻弄される子供や女性は、文明国日本でこれから生まれてはいけないと思う。悠仁さまや紀子様で十分だろう。
彼の誕生で私たちは自分たちに問いかけなければならない。
私は女系天皇に賛成する。

The Japanese Imperial Household has been changing very quickly. The closed-minded part of that history cannot be wiped away, but I think that the existence of the Japanese Imperial Family gains some value also in relation to it. However, I also believe that in the future, in a civilized country such as Japan, children and girls cannot be born and be at the mercy of history. Prince Hisahito and Princess Kiko will be enough.
Taking his birth as a starting point, we have to question ourselves.
I agree with matrilineal succession.

2 comments

  • A friend of mine once said that some part of Princess Masako must have been relieved when Prince Hisahito was born because her daughter now had a chance to lead a more independent life, something she’ll never have for herself. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, what the members of the Imperial Family feel as individuals doesn’t/can’t matter, but that comment has stayed with me for years – though I’d share.

  • Akisino Hisahito is Chromosomal abnormality Handicapped child,and deformity of organs.
    He is C-D-C(5P-). It was descovered when he was one-month-year.
    Emperess Michiko shocked when doctor said “HIH Hisahito never could long-live”
    So he can not up on the throne.
    Everyone know that,but close.

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