Dhaka, Bangladesh
Let will of the people decide succession issue

Off the Track

Let will of the people decide succession issue

Haruaki Deguchi

With the Daijosai (grand thanksgiving) ceremony concluded without a hitch, a series of key rituals linked to Emperor Naruhito’s accession to the throne is now finally over. In Japan, the emperor performs a rite known as Niinamesai at the Imperial Palace every fall to celebrate the year’s rich harvest. The first Niinamesai performed by the new emperor is customarily carried out as a larger-scale Daijosai ceremony. Just as his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who abdicated at the end of April, and his wife Empress Emerita Michiko did, the new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako have the respect of people at large, and the new emperor’s reign is believed to have made a good start. That does not mean the imperial family does not face any problems in the future. The biggest challenge confronting the family is that there are only two potential heirs to the throne who are younger than the emperor: Crown Prince Akishino, the younger brother of the emperor, and Prince Hisahito, the son of the crown prince. This problem traces its origin to a law enacted after the Meiji Restoration roughly 150 years ago, which stipulated that the imperial throne will be succeeded only by males in the family from its paternal lineage. Even under the current Constitution, which was instituted after World War II, the Imperial House Law limited the heirs to men in the family’s paternal lines. Of course, the Japanese government did not sit idly on the matter. In 2005, a panel of experts set up by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi compiled a report that condoned reigning empresses and succession on the maternal lineage. However, an amendment to the Imperial House Law to make that possible was shelved the following year when Prince Hisahito was born to the Akishino house. In 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda compiled a proposal for creating female-led houses within the imperial family — so that female members of the family would retain their imperial status, thus preventing a precipitous decline in the family’s ranks. This proposal never made it to the Diet, either. The biggest obstacles to making these changes is the deep-seated belief among certain conservative lawmakers that male-only imperial succession on the family’s paternal lineage is a precious national tradition.

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