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 Although the issue was on the verge of bringing a change to — or at least spark debate about — the outdated Imperial system, however, it has almost completely disappeared from the media and public debate since the birth of a boy in the Imperial Family.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.


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].


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.



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.



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.



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.


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.

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

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.


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.


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?


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.)


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.


  • 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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