CLIO TALKS BACK: Clio asks: Why exclude women from succession to the throne?

The Japan Times for Nov. 4, 2005 carried a headline “Anyone but a woman: prince. Adoption, concubines said preferable to an empress.”

Although a government panel had indicated its support for allowing a firstborn child to reign, irrespective of sex, so that the little Princess Aiko, daughter and only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, could eventually succeed her father, the old guard weighed in. This included the Crown Prince’s cousin, who vigorously opposed female succession in any form.

In fact Japan's restriction on female succession was put in place only in 1947, with the Imperial Household Law that limited successors to male descendants of emperors on their fathers’ side. In fact, through history there had been eight empresses, but none who had provided male heirs. This was no question of a hallowed precedent but of a relatively recent law – and laws can, of course, be changed. This did not bother the cousin, who insistently invoked 2,665 years of history, and insisted that female empresses had only been placekeepers for succeeding males. He advocated reestablishing the concubine system in order that male heirs could be produced, irrespective of monogamy.

But the more comic aspect of this debate emerged when the “Y” chromosome issue came to the fore. The bloodline, through the male, could not be preserved with an indifferentiated succession scheme.

Some women in Japan found this debate onerous. The New York Times (27 Dec. 2005) quoted a professor of women’s history at Keiwa College, Mikiyo Kano: “I think the fame succession system in the imperial family has led to the discrimination and oppression of women in general in Japan.”

The crisis finally came to an end in February 2006, when the Crown Prince’s younger brother, Akishino, announced that his wife Princess Kiko, age 39, was pregnant. They already had two daughters. In September the princess gave birth to a son – who is now third in line. And the succession crisis was settled. What timing!

Clio is curious about how the discussions might have gone between the younger prince and his wife. Did Prince Akishino lay down the law and insist on trying? How did Princess Kiko welcome about this initiative? After all, it was her body that was needed to secure a male heir. What did she think? And how did Princess Masako, who had withdrawn totally from public life, respond? Clio believes that one day we may find out.
History has its ways….

Sources: The Japan Times (Friday, Nov. 4, 2005); The New York Times (Tuesday, 27 Dec. 2005); San Jose Mercury News (Weds., Sept. 6, 2006).