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Land of the setting daughter

The Imperial Household Law of 1947 allows only male successors to the Chrysanthemum Throne despite having eight Japanese empresses.

india Updated: Sep 08, 2006 03:09 IST

As far as crises in monarchies go, a succession crunch is a rather big deal. The basis for most passing-the-royal-baton exercises is hereditary club rules. So, one would have thought the imperial family of Japan to have breathed a sigh of relief on December 1, 2001, when Emperor Akihito’s eldest son Naruhito had a daughter. But then, Japan’s Imperial Household Law of 1947 allows only male successors to the Chrysanthemum Throne despite there having been eight Japanese empresses before the law was passed. Thus, it is only this week, with the birth of the first male child in the imperial family since 1965, that Japan can rest easy about its royal future.

The newly born son to the emperor’s second in line — the father of the child and Emperor Akihito’s second son — Prince Akishino automatically becomes third in the succession queue. To ask why a retrograde business such as a male-only primogeniture is allowed to exist is to bypass the more retrograde issue of the existence of monarchies in the 21st century. ‘For ceremonial and symbolic value’ is the usual reply — whether it is from monarchists in Japan or in the United Queendom.

A monarchy, by definition, is no private enterprise. So finding a ‘quaintness’ or ‘cuteness’ quotient in the royalty of a country is one thing, to have an anti-
female public policy quite another. One hopes that things will change in Japan. As it did in England after the male heir-obsessed Henry VIII.