TV & Radio
Japan to back gender equality in royal succession
Tue Nov 8, 2005 11:23 AM IST
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is leaning towards giving women the same right to inherit the imperial throne as men, media reports said on Tuesday, breaking a male-only tradition in order to ensure its ancient monarchy does not die out.
The change would resolve a looming succession crisis but upset ultra-conservatives intent on preserving an imperial male line they believe stretches back more than 2,000 years.
Japan's succession debate parallels one in Spain, where the birth of a baby girl to the future queen has lent urgency to discussions on changing the constitution to allow a first-born girl to ascend the throne even if a royal son is born later.
Only male descendants of Japan's emperor can inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne at present, but no royal boys have been born in 40 years and Emperor Akihito's three grandchildren are girls.
Advisory panel chief Hiroyuki Yoshikawa said late last month the experts would recommend that females and their descendants be allowed to succeed to the throne.
But he left unclear whether a younger male would be given precedence over his older sisters, as in Britain and Spain currently.
Media said on Tuesday the panel was likely to recommend having the first-born inherit regardless of who was born later.
"That would be in line with gender equality and allows the succession to be decided at an early stage," said Keio University professor Hidehiko Kasahara, adding that this was also the trend in European royal houses.
"It is true that there will be some who oppose this, but among the public generally, there is support for a new mode of succession so I do not think there will be a big problem," said Kasahara, an expert on the imperial family.
TOUCHY TOPIC, PUBLIC SUPPORT
The government is expected to enact legal revisions to the 1947 Imperial Household Law in the next session of parliament.
That would clear the way for 3-year-old Princess Aiko -- the only daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito -- to become Japan's first reigning empress since the 18th century.
In a sign of the subject's sensitivity, however, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, 71, last week questioned the growing calls to let a woman ascend the throne.
"The reason why the imperial family line is so precious ... is due to the very fact that it's been, without exception, a male line," wrote Prince Tomihito, 59, who is the eldest cousin of Akihito and fifth in line for the throne.
"Is it all right to change so easily the unique tradition and history of our country?" the prince added in an essay circulated among members of a welfare foundation which he heads.
Echoing proposals by ultra-conservative scholars, Tomihito suggested Japan consider reviving the princely houses abolished after World War Two and finding a male heir among their ranks, or even bringing back the practice of imperial concubines.
Japan has had eight reigning empresses, but traditionalists stress that none of those passed on the throne to her own child.
While most lawmakers and the vast majority of the public favour allowing a female to ascend the throne, a survey by the Nihon Keizai newspaper published last week showed citizens were divided over whether females should only reign if there were no male heirs.
Hopes for a male heir dimmed three years ago when Crown Princess Masako, who turns 42 next month, gave birth to Aiko after nearly eight years of marriage.