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Imperial Family/ Uncharted terrain:Those who do not want females or their descendants to become emperor feel stymied.
By TARO KARASAKI and YU YOSHITAKE
Staff Writers - IHT/Asahi
Princess Aiko digs out a sweet potato with her mother, Crown Princess Masako, at Togu Palace in November.Aiko will be second in line for the Chrysanthemum throne if a revision of the Imperial House Law is approved to allow a female emperor. / Imperial Household Agency
This is the first in a series on issues and topics facing the imperial family.
Kentaro Sano, a Kochi University assistant professor, knows from experience the uphill battle facing opponents of government moves to allow females and their descendants to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.
Students of Sano's intercultural studies class once decided to hold a debate over the question: Should Japan be ready to embrace a female emperor?
The debate never got off the ground.
"Nobody wanted to take on the role of arguing against the idea of females and their descendants ascending," said Sano, who uses debate as an educational tool. "Whenever somebody tried to present an argument to oppose a female emperor by citing such reasons as tradition and capability, it got rejected for being too demeaning to women."
That was four years ago. But today, the same sentiments that felled the debate are plaguing scholars, lawmakers and others trying to build momentum to block Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's plans to submit a bill to revise the Imperial House Law in the regular Diet session scheduled to start in January.
If the Diet approves the proposed revisions, 4-year-old Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, will be eligible to become Japan's first female emperor since the 18th century. There have been eight female emperors in the nation's history, but they never gave birth to heirs, so the throne always returned to an unbroken male line.
The bill will be based on recommendations by Koizumi's advisory panel on imperial succession, which proposed in November that women and their descendants be allowed to become emperor, breaking a male-lineage tradition said to date back to mythical times.
The panel was set up because no boy has been born into the imperial family in 40 years.
Improved image of Japan?
Media opinion polls have shown an overwhelming majority of people support the change. For example, an Asahi Shimbun survey in November found that 71 percent of respondents back female lineage, while 78 percent prefer legal changes to allow female emperors.
In recent street interviews by the English-language edition of The Asahi Shimbun, supporters have cited the need to ease the pressure on Masako to have a baby boy.
"In addition to the importance of gender equality, another merit would be that a female emperor could help improve the image of the imperial family and the country as a whole in neighboring countries where the emperor has tended to take on the image of the source of aggression during World War II," said Chieko Kanatani, head of the advocacy group Women and Work Research Center in Tokyo.
In stark contrast, opponents are having a tough time convincing the public on their way of thinking.
"If the change is made to the tradition that has lasted more than 2,000 years in such a hasty manner, Japan's identity, based on the unity of the people, for which the emperor is the symbol, will face a meltdown," warned Takeo Hiranuma, a Lower House member who heads a Diet members' league in the Japan Conference, a group of conservative intellectuals, politicians and others.
Hiranuma, a former trade minister, says that he would not oppose allowing a woman from the male lineage to become emperor, but he could not accept an emperor of female lineage.
A sense of crisis was felt at a gathering of opponents in late November in Tokyo.
"One thing we have to be very careful about is not to draw the wrath of the public because gender equality is the norm, and we need to be more strategic," said Kyoko Nishikawa, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Hiranuma and his colleagues are hoping to gain support for an alternative bill to counter the government's planned revision of the Imperial House Law. The bill would aim at maintaining the current rule of giving the first son priority in ascension, observers say.
Under the government-sponsored bill, the first child, regardless of sex, would be given priority.
However, it remains to be seen if such a move would gather momentum.
One reason that opponents have faltered may be that former imperial family members have chosen to remain silent over the issue.
The only exception is Tsuneyasu Takeda, historian and great-great grandson of Emperor Meiji.
In December, Takeda published a book titled "Katararenakatta Kozokutachi no Shinjitsu" (The untold truth of the imperial family) to express his opposition to the proposed revisions. He also suggested reinstating 11 former court families that lost their imperial status after World War II.
However, Takeda said the heads of the former court families agreed in late 2004, just before Koizumi's advisory panel started its discussions, not to speak out on the issue.
When Takeda approached some families to explain his plan to write a book, "some told me that I should act accordingly and not get involved in political issues," Takeda said.
While the odds appear daunting for those trying to stymie the government's move, Kyoko Kanemaru, a 20-year-old student at Yokohama National University, says her argument against a female emperor once won a debate held at Sundai Kofu High School in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Kanemaru, who actually supports the idea of having a female emperor, pulled off the surprise victory by adopting a rather extreme strategy.
She undermined the arguments of those in favor of a female emperor by arguing that the emperor system itself encouraged discrimination--and that accepting a female emperor would only allow that system to continue.
"When the opposing team tried to rebut by insisting the system should be retained but made more democratic and gender-friendly by introducing a female emperor, I exposed fallacies in their argument," she said. "I pointed out that the current emperor system did not discriminate solely against women because while female family members cannot assume the throne, male commoners cannot become members of the imperial family, either."
That effectively silenced her opponents' arguments, she said.
Ironically, Kanemaru's argument is not the type of logic the traditionalists want to count on to oppose revisions of the law.
In fact, what the anti-revision camp is really concerned is the possibility that people opposed to the emperor system may back the proposed revision in hopes that a break with the imperial family's tradition of bansei-ikkei (centuries-old unbroken male lineage) could help to erode the very foundation of the system. Some signs of opposition
"Even if many people back the revisions, the support base of a new emperor system would be very fragile, only based on capricious public opinion," said Hidetsugu Yagi, an assistant professor of regional policy at the Takasaki City University of Economics and expert on the Constitution. He is one of the leading opponents of a female emperor, and he stated his views at a government panel meeting.
Yagi says the overriding task for the anti-revision force is to prevent the bill from being submitted to the regular Diet session in March.
"Once Prime Minister Koizumi steps down (in September), the political environment surrounding the bill could change," Yagi said.
Opponents saw a ray of hope at a recent meeting of 30 LDP lawmakers, including about 20 men, who are among 83 LDP Lower House members called "Koizumi children." They were newly elected to the chamber in the September election, taking advantage of Koizumi's popularity.
According to a source, the Dec. 14 meeting became a "lively session," where "most of the men expressed negative views toward a female emperor and female lineage, while most women backed it."
"If the LDP revises the Imperial House Law in a hasty manner without sufficient debate, we might have to quit the party," Masaaki Taira, one of the participants, said at the meeting.
"I had used the provocative words to make other lawmakers realize the importance of the issue," he said in an interview.
However, there are no signs of a major campaign against the revisions inside or outside of the Diet. In fact, this could be Koizumi's easiest reform to push through, considering his battles with bureaucrats and his own party members over privatizing postal services and public highway corporations.
Koizumi still repeats something he started saying soon after becoming prime minister in April 2001.
"I believe this is an era where the nation will embrace the advent of a female emperor."
Under the Imperial House Law, only male imperial family members of male lineage can become emperor.
In January 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set up a panel consisting of 10 experts from various fields to discuss the law and possible ways to ensure stable succession in the imperial family.
The panel recommended giving eligibility to females and their descendants; that the first child, regardless of sex, be given priority in ascension, and that female family members who marry commoners be allowed to retain their imperial family member status.
Past female emperors
There have been eight female emperors who reigned in 10 eras until now. However, there has never been an emperor of female lineage.
The last female emperor was Go-sakuramachi, who reigned between 1762 and 1770.(IHT/Asahi: January 01,2006)
Web posted at: 18:27 JST
Dec 31, 2005 2:07 pm US/Central
Gay Rights Advocates Pleased By New Law
New Law Prohibits Discrimination
(AP) CHICAGO Tim Pierce hopes he never has to depend on a new state anti-discrimination law protecting gays and lesbians. But if he does, he's glad the protection is there.
The 39-year-old university instructor and his partner live in Oswego -- a town about 40 miles west of Chicago and one of several in the state that didn't have laws protecting gays and lesbians. That is, until now.
On Sunday, a state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will become a reality, nearly a year after Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed it into law and more than three decades since state lawmakers first debated it.
"I'm hoping people won't need to rely on the law," said Pierce, who also is the president of a gay rights organization in Joliet. "But in instances where someone is denied housing or a job, they have an avenue to take that they couldn't before."
Illinois joins 15 other states that have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Of those 16, Illinois is only one of seven states where the law protects transgender people, according to the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"Illinois is not a trendsetter, but it's not a right-winger," said Rick Garcia, political director for the gay rights group Equality Illinois. "We're not Massachusetts or California, but we're certainly not Alabama or Tennessee. ... Illinoisans are reasonable people. We are cautious, but we want to do the right thing."
Some opponents worry the law will put Illinois on the path to legalizing gay marriage, a concern advocates dismiss.
The battle to ban sexual-orientation discrimination in Illinois began in the mid-1970s, when the first bills were introduced into the Legislature.
Though bill after bill went by the wayside, communities across the state began amending their own anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation. Champaign was the first in 1977, followed by Urbana, Chicago, eight other cities and Cook County.
Chicago-based Equality Illinois joined the fight in the early 1990s, making the anti-discrimination amendment its top priority. It took more than a dozen more years for the Legislature to make it happen.
In 2005, the state House passed the anti-discrimination bill 65-51 on the last possible day before it would have died. The bill barely slid through the Senate by a 30-27 vote, the minimum number required. Blagojevich signed it into law on Jan. 21.
For Equality Illinois' Garcia, the battle has been a long and frustrating one, but he doesn't want to complain -- too much.
"It took 30 years for it (the Legislature) to pass something as simple as protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation," Garcia said. "On one hand, the Illinois General Assembly should be commended for recognizing all Illinoisans should be treated the same. But on the other hand, what the hell took so long?"
The law allows people to file complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights if they believe they were denied a job, housing, public accommodation or credit.
For many in Illinois, the Human Rights amendment won't change their lives. Supporters have said about half of the state's population already lives in areas protected by local ordinances. But in Oswego or Danville or Belleville, the law marks the first time gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people can legally fight back.
"I think it's (the law) not going to have a lot of affect in places like Chicago and Cook County, but if you're in Pekin, Prairie du Rocher, Red Bud or Zion, you'll be protected," Garcia said.
But not everyone believes adding sexual orientation to the Human Rights Act will benefit the state.
State Sen. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, said he worries the law is not clear on its definition of sexual orientation and doesn't protect religious institutions from being forced to hire gays and lesbians.
"I think it's going to lead to some unpleasant situations," said Roskam, who voted against the bill.
Roskam, who is running for retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde's seat in Congress, also fears the law is "a building block for gay marriage."
State Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, who also voted against the bill, said the law will cause some politicians to push harder for laws prohibiting gay marriage.
"The sexual orientation legislation has promulgated the push to pass the ban on same-sex marriage," he said.
Gay rights advocates say their opponents' fears are unfounded.
Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, the chief sponsor of the anti-discrimination bill that Blagojevich signed, said she doesn't think the law will lead the state to legalize gay marriage.
"That's a whole other area and another arena of discussion," Ronen said. "I think Illinois is far away from that."
Buff Carmichael, who publishes Prairie Flame, a monthly newspaper geared to the gay community outside of Chicago, said Illinois' law lags behind public opinion.
"The mood of the public has been more accepting in recent years than in times past," said Carmichael, who lives in Springfield. "We don't get kicked out of as many places as years ago."
Still, Carmichael, said it's about time the gay community received equal protection.
"I would've hated to be the only gay person in some town in the Carbondale area and be looking for a job. But to have this law now, if you can prove it, they can't refuse to hire you anymore based on orientation," he said.
Home > News > World > Asia
We're not all gropers, say Japan's male commuters
By Marcus Tanner
Published: 01 January 2006 - The Independent
For years they have been the silent terror of the Japanese underground - groping male hands whose owners make use of almost impossibly crowded conditions in carriages to fondle women commuters beside them.
Or have they? Smarting under the announcement that underground chiefs are to introduce more women-only carriages in 2006, Japan's male commuters are up in arms over attacks on their allegedly roving hands.
Their beef is that the new system is blatantly sexist and offers women commuters an easier ride - literally, in this case - on account of crimes many men say they never commit.
"Other carriages get so crowded now. It feels like we have been punished for something we didn't do," Hisashi Yoshizawa, one impugned male commuter, complained. "It's not right to introduce women-only carriages."
For all the anger of Japan's male commuters, underground bosses in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are unlikely to reverse the trend towards subway sex segregation.
Too many women say they have had enough of men's insinuating digits making their already stressful travel arrangements hell. Recent surveys showed 64 per cent of women commuters said they had been groped, and a record 2,201 cases were reported on Tokyo commuter trains last year.
Japan's police take the phenomenon ever more seriously, too, patrolling carriages and brandishing fines of up to 50,000 yen (£240). In a radical, or perhaps just desperate, attempt to nab what they believe are around 150 hard-core gropers, the police are even turning to forensic analysis.
Thanks to a new system perfected in Osaka, western Japan, they can match tiny fabric fibres extracted by sticky film from the palms of known suspects with the clothes of women victims. It sounds almost impossibly complex, but the Osaka police say it helped them to convict 16 of the city's worst subway gropers last year. According to Michiaki Tatsuno, of the Osaka police crime laboratory: "This step will help deter the molesters from striking."