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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #266: December 2, 2004

Japanese Govt Hopes to Allow Woman on Throne within Years: Report

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japanese govt hopes to allow woman on throne within years: report
(AFP) Channel News Asia


The issue of having an empress at the throne, whereby the term empress not being meant merely as the mate of an emperor but herself standing at the helm of the imperial family, has been discussed behind the scenes, apparently, ever since the rule was stipulated in writing.

Japan's monarchy is unique in many ways. One is that it is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The imperial household recognizes one hundred twenty-five monarchs since the ascension of the first emperor, Jimmu. Although most historians regard the first fourteen emperors as legendary figures, it is still significant.

Another characteristic worth mentioning here may be that during the one-and-a-half millennium the family held the throne, it was only until late 12th century when the throne meant having true governing powers. Since more than 800 years ago, when the worries took over the control of the government, until present, where the democratic system is realized at its foremost among any society in the world, the throne has functioned, at varying degrees from time to time, as a sort of a symbol of the society. In fact, the very first article of the Constitution stipulates, "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power."

The requirement for a male to succeed the throne is not stipulated in the Constitution, it is in the Imperial Household Rules, established in 1889, and has been modified only slightly in essence to be incorporated as a law under the revised constitution proclaimed in 1946. As the Imperial Household Law being an ordinary law, it can be amended through the procedure to pass or change any law, by simple majority votes in the two houses of the diet. (The Constitution need not be amended as suggested in the article introduced above.)

Before the law was stipulated on paper, there had obviously been a long period when customary practices ruled. There are slight differences among scholars in analyzing the ancient practices, but in very general terms it had been something like that a male heir took precedence over females but no prohibition for a female to take over the throne.

The reason for the Imperial Household Law to have imposed such a restriction, which was more than a hundred years ago, is not known. In fact, it has been explained that there is no record of how the regulation was incorporated into the Law. There has only been unofficial assumptions suggested by some scholars that it was because women were considered inferior at the time (note it was only in 1920 when women in the U.S. were given suffrage), and that in the aim to sustain the image of a strong state (note being strong was the only way for a nation to survive in the midst of the age of Imperialism.)

Whatever may be the thoughts of the people at the time, there seems to be no visible objection among the people now in having a woman as their symbol - as the empress. There are, however, apparently a significant volume of details to be sorted out from legal perspective, including redefining of the scope of the imperial family and formulating the new rules for setting the order of succession to the throne. Also, there have been sympathies expressed toward the present lawmakers in their reluctance to possible encroachment upon the tradition that has endured for one and a half millenniums. But the time is running out for something to be done, or else the monarchy could cease to exist, which is one of the very few things very clear for the Japanese people not wanting to see.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications