This is rather big news in Japan.
A senior government panel in Japan has decided that women should be allowed to ascend to Japan’s imperial throne. This is a major hurdle cleared in the legal process of changing Japan’s Imperial Household law to allow 3-year-old Princess Aiko — the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Masako (the former Masako Owada who worked on semiconductor trade issues in Japan’s Foreign Ministry) — to become eventually Japan’s reigning empress.
Why so important?
For one, it finally brings into line Article 14 of Japan’s Constitution and Imperial Household Law.
When Japan’s current emperor Akihito ascended, a group of female Japanese attorneys filed lawsuit against the government arguing that the law asserting male-only heirs to the throne was unconstitutional. This case never saw the light of day and was probably thrown out by Japan’s courts as I never found any action on the lawsuit.
All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. 2) Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. 3) No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it.
I’m not a fan of Japan’s imperial system, but I do think that allowing female empresses will have a positive effect on the treatment of women in Japan at all levels of society. Many of the most talented women in Japan get out of the country as soon as possible and enroll in foreign universities (as Masako Owada did), looking for opportunity and advancement outside their home country.
Perhaps Aiko-mania will shame Japan’s institutionalized stunting of women in Japanese society.
If you read the article closely, you will note that one of the points of opposition to this imperial rule change comes from Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, often called “Prince Mikasa.” This guy has many of the far-right in Japan lurking behind his shadow, hoping one day for the restitution of real imperial power in Japan. He has an arrogance about his position and role in Japanese society that the actual emperor and his children do not have.
Tomohito of Mikasa married Nobuko Aso, who happens to be the sister of Japan’s current Foreign Minister Taro Aso as well as Asako (Aso) Arafune, who is an old friend of mine. These Aso children were the daughter of Kazuko Aso, the daughter of Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru who governed Japan through most of the period of U.S. occupation of the Japanese islands. Kazuko Aso served as Japan’s first lady during the years that Yoshida ruled as prime minister.
I got to know Kazuko Aso when she visited Los Angeles frequently to meet her grandchildren there — as her daughter and son-in-law, Kiyohiko Arafune (a Foreign Ministry official), were stationed there at the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles.
Kazuko Aso and I actually watched the marriage of Prince Ayanomiya — son of the current emperor and brother to the crown prince — and Princess Kiko on television in L.A. Her grandkids were into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ultra-Man type stuff — and I’d let them beat me up. But as we watched and the kids wrestled me, Aso showed me her daughter on television, with Prince Mikasa, and lamented what a “prison” the Imperial Household was. Aso had a good deal of disdain for the Imperial Household bureaucrats — and though she was clearly a blue-blood aristocrat herself — she was a tougher-than-nails independent woman who had extreme confidence in her abilities and views.
I think Kazuko Aso would be pleased by the thought that a woman might become Empress of Japan and break out of the role of being the person to stand “behind” her spouse. And I think that she didn’t like the arrogance of the Imperial household bureaucrats and the way in which they preserved a veil of secrecy around the imperial family and its retainers.
Taro Aso has evolved into a clever politician and thoughtful economic policy force in Japan — but he’s also tethered a bit too much to deeply conservative, “old right” forces.
I don’t know if Aso agrees with the crowd that his brother-in-law, Tomohito of Mikasa, runs with — but those who watch Japanese politics and who are in touch with Taro Aso would do well to advise him to think of his ferociously independent and historically important mother — who advocated women’s equal rights and to discount those who flirt with ascendance of a more powerful, male-dominated imperial institution in Japan.
— Steve Clemons