Japanese succession controversy

Japanese succession controversy

The Japanese imperial succession controversy refers to desires to change the laws of succession to the Japanese Imperial Throne, which is currently limited to males of the imperial family.


Traditionally, the imperial throne was passed on under custom which resembled the rule of agnatic seniority. Theoretically, any male or female with patrilineal lineage to early Japanese monarchs, who mythically descended in direct male line from the mythical first emperor, Jinmu Tenno, could come to hold the Chrysanthemum throne. In practice, preference was given to first-born male offspring of a preceding male monarch, followed by his brothers, sons and other males of the immediate male-line family; and ultimately followed by representatives of Shinnoke houses, in other words, male-line relatives, occasionally very distant male cousins. Because there existed no restrictions on remarriage or polygyny in historical Japan, there existed usually a plentitude of male relatives who could take over the throne. However, there are several historical instances of women holding the throne. An empress' offspring does not have claim to the throne from the said maternal lineage, so assigning a female to the throne had the convenient effect of postponing succession disputes. On other occasions, the direct male heir was yet a toddler and his mother, aunt or elder sister, if also held imperial lineage through her patriline, temporarily took over the throne until the child came to puberty, which was deemed perfectly sufficient for a boy's accession.

However, after the Meiji restoration, Japan imported the Prussian model of imperial succession, in which imperial females were explicitly excluded from the claim to succession. More significantly, as a part of the effort to westernize/modernise Japan, the Japanese government banned polygamy, which was previously allowed to any family with noble rank (samurai or kuge), particularly if the first wife could not produce male offspring. After WWII, a further restriction was instituted. New rules meant that only the closest relatives of the then emperor Hirohito (children and descendants, siblings and their descendants) could be part of the official imperial family, and have a claim to succession. When the throne is passed on, any uncles or cousinsFact|date=January 2008 of the new emperor would lose the status of belonging to the imperial family and automatically lose their claim to the throne. Many argue that the current system, which is an extremely strict form of agnatic primogeniture, is untenable in long run. In fact, the current emperor, Akihito, has presently only one male grandchild, the imperial prince Hisahito.

It is expected that, in the future, a situation could arise when there is no male offspring of the emperor. Controversy exists as to what extent the current rule of succession under the "the Imperial Household Law of 1947" should be changed. Those on the Right advocate a change, holding the Prussian-style agnatic primogeniture, but bringing back the previously excluded male relatives into the imperial household. Liberals would advocate the adoption of equal primogeniture. Moderates would advocate re-adoption of earlier, indigeneous customs of succession, that is, that a female can succeed to the throne as long as she holds precedence in seniority or proximity within the patrilineal kinship. The late Imperial Princess Kikuko, the last surviving Arisugawa-Takamatsu and aunt to the current Emperor, advocated the traditional, customary rights of female princesses to succession, in her media interviews and articles, after the birth of princess Aiko.

Adoption of equal primogeniture would permit, as has happened in history, unmarried or widowed female descendants in the male line of the Imperial House to inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne, but would also allow something unprecedented: making it possible for married princesses and princesses' children whose fathers are not descendants in the male line of the earlier emperors, to ascend the throne.

Historical background

Ruling Empresses in Japanese history

Eight women have served as "tenno", "i.e." reigning empresses, during the recorded history of Japan on ten occasions. Two of those empresses have, after abdicating, reascended the throne under different names. The last time Japan had a reigning Empress was in 1771, when Empress Toshiko "Go-Sakuramachi" abdicated in favor of her nephew, Emperor Go-Momozono.

The ruling empresses have been:
* Empress Suiko (推古天皇 Suiko Tennō) was the 33rd emperor of Japan from 593 until 628, according to the traditional order of succession, and the first historically attested woman to hold this position. She was the granddaughter of Tashiraga of Yamato, herself sister of the childless Emperor Buretsu, transfering some legitimacy in succession to the throne of Great Yamato to her husband Emperor Keitai. Tashiraga's mother had been Kasuga of Yamato, sister of the childless Emperor Seinei, whose own marriage with the future Emperor Ninken had had a similar effect a generation earlier. According to legends, these ladies descended from the mythical Jingo Kogo, who had been ruler (since Meiji-era rewrites of history, Regent) of Yamato for decades at some time in the past, probably in the mid-300s (if she really existed), and who herself descended, according to myths, from Amaterasu omikami, the Sun Goddess of the Japanese pantheon.

* Takara, Empress Kogyoku (皇極天皇 Kōgyoku Tennō), also Empress Saimei (斉明天皇 Saimei Tennō) was the 35th and 37th emperor of Japan, initially from February 18, 642 to July 12, 645, ascending upon the death of her uncle (who also had been her second husband). When she abdicated, her own younger brother succeeded her. However, upon the death of the said younger brother, she reascended the throne as Empress Saimei on February 14, 655, and ruled until her death on August 24, 661.

* Empress Jito (持統天皇 Jitō Tennō) was the 41st imperial ruler of Japan, and ruled from 686 until 697.

* Empress Gemmei (also Empress Genmyō; 元明天皇 Genmei Tennō) was the 43rd imperial ruler of Japan ruling from 661715 (d. December 7, 721).

* Empress Gensho was the 44th monarch of Japan (715- ).

* Empress Koken (孝謙天皇 Kōken Tennō) also Empress Shōtoku (称徳天皇 Shōtoku Tennō) was the 46th imperial ruler of Japan from 749 to 758, and the 48th from 764 to 770. Her posthumous name for her second reign (764-770) was Empress Shotoku.

* Okiko, Empress Meishō (明正天皇 Meishō Tennō) was the 109th emperor of Japan, reigning from December 22, 1629, to November 14, 1643. She ascended upon the abdication of her father, being the eldest surviving child, holding priority over her younger brothers.

* Toshiko, Empress Go-Sakuramachi (後桜町天皇 Go-Sakuramachi Tennō) was the 117th emperor of Japan, and ruled from September 15, 1762, to January 9, 1771. She abdicated in favor of her young nephew. Surviving over forty years, the retired Empress held all those decades the position of Dajo Tenno, and acted as sort of guardian of subsequent emperors.

Post Meiji-era laws

(See )

Women were barred from the throne for the first time in 1889 by a Prussian-influenced constitution during the 19th century Meiji Restoration. This prohibition was continued by the Imperial Household Law of 1947, enacted under Japan's post-World War II constitution during the American occupation. More importantly, as a part of reforming Japan, Japan introduced a ban on polygyny and the Meiji Emperor was the last to have an official secondary consort.

The 1947 law further restricts the succession to legitimate male descendants in the male line of Meiji only (excluding other male lines of the imperial dynasty, such as Fushimi, Higashikuni, Kitashirakawa, etc.), and specifically bars the emperor and other members of the imperial family from adopting children. During the recent controversy over the succession, commentators suggested that the current system could not possibly function in the long term as it is unlikely that there will always be a male prince to succeed to the throne.

The current situation

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako have one child, HIH Princess Aiko (her official appellation is "Toshi no Miya," or Princess Toshi), born on December 1, 2001. The child's birth, which occurred more than eight years after her parents' marriage and after the Crown Princess had considerable (and widely noted) difficulty in conceiving a child, has sparked a lively debate in Japan about imperial succession. To add to this dearth of male heirs, Crown Prince Naruhito's brother, Prince Akishino, had two daughters, and the two other collateral members of the Imperial Family, Prince Tomohito of Mikasa and the late Prince Takamado, also had daughters. No male heir had been born into the Imperial Family in nearly 41 years (see Current order of succession). Prince Akishino's wife, Princess Kiko, gave birth to a baby boy in September, 2006. The child, Prince Hisahito, is now third in line to the Imperial Throne.

Some, as in "The Japan Times" editorial on February 12, 2006 [http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/ed20060212a1.html] , expressed their hope that Princess Kiko's child would be a daughter, so that Princess Aiko could become reigning empress. They believe that it is necessary to have an empress regnant to act as a symbol for social reform of women's issues in Japan. The "Asahi Shimbun" published an editorial on May 5, 2006 [http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200605050077.html] suggesting that the current system was unsustainable. Although it did not expressly call for revising the succession law to allow women to sit on the throne, it said that the birth of a male child to Princess Kiko could not provide a long-term solution to the issue of the imperial succession, and that flexibility was needed for the continuation of the imperial family. Following the birth of Prince Hisahito, the controversy surrounding the succession issue has abated. However, it is not certain that the new prince will sire male heirs of his own, given the history of the imperial men siring daughters or no children at all; thus the debate over succession of female heirs may still be relevant.

Timeline of recent events

* On January 24, 2005, the Japanese government announced that it would consider allowing the Crown Prince and Princess to adopt a male child, in order to avoid a possible "heir crisis." Adoption from other male-line branches of the Imperial Line is an age-old imperial Japanese tradition for dynastic purposes, prohibited only in modern times by Western influence. The child would presumably be adopted from one of the former imperial branches which lost imperial status after World War II. However, a government-appointed panel of experts submitted a report on October 25, 2005, recommending that the imperial succession law be amended to permit equal primogeniture.

* In November, 2005, it was reported [http://www.guardian.co.uk/japan/story/0,7369,1627427,00.html] that Emperor Akihito's cousin Prince Tomohito of Mikasa had objected to the reversal of the male-only succession, in a column of the magazine of the welfare association which he serves as president. Prince Tomohito had suggested four options to continue the male-only line succession there; the fourth was permitting the Emperor or Crown Prince to take a concubine, which was allowed by the former law of imperial succession.

* On January 20, 2006, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used part of his annual keynote speech to address the controversy when he pledged to submit a bill to the Japanese Diet letting women ascend to the throne so that imperial succession may be continued into the future in a stable manner. Koizumi did not announce any particular timing for the legislation to be introduced, nor did he provide details about its content, but said that it would be in line with the conclusions of the 2005 government panel. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4630464.stm]

* On February 1, 2006, former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma caused a controversy by arguing against the proposed reform bill because Princess Aiko might marry a foreigner in the future [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4669408.stm] .

* On February 6, 2006, it was announced that Prince Akishino's wife Princess Kiko was pregnant, and would be due in September.

* On September 6, 2006, Princess Kiko delivered a baby boy, later named Prince Hisahito. According to the current succession law, he is third in line to the throne, but Princess Aiko, who now holds no right to succession, would have precedence over him as well as over her uncle if the law is changed. [http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,18078161%255E2703,00.html]

* On January 3, 2007, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would drop the proposal to alter the Imperial Household Law. [http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070103/ap_on_re_as/japan_imperial_succession]

* In September 2007, Abe's successor Yasuo Fukuda stated he was in favour of reforming the Imperial Household Law to allow female succession. [http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/09/21/asia/AS-GEN-Japan-Politics.php]

External links

* http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/09/05/japan.princess/index.html
* http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1531895,00.html?cnn=yes
* http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5320224.stm
* [http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/is/is512.pdf Japanese Monarchy: Past and Present: Will an empress save the Japanese monarchy?]

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