December 27, 2005

Imperial succession.

Here's an article about the debate over imperial succession in Japan. The princess's problems with depression and anxiety after giving birth only to a daughter have led to a proposal to permit females to carry on the line. Despite the ancientness of the tradition, the debate proceeds in modern terms, with one side emphasizing the Y chromosome and the other feminism:

"I think the male succession system in the imperial family has led to the discrimination and oppression of women in general in Japan," Ms. Kano said. A female line would make a woman the symbolic leader of the nation and show a man deferring to her, as wives of emperors do, she said.

"If Princess Aiko became empress, it might be a little better for the realization of the equality of men and women, rather than clinging to the male line," Ms. Kano said. "I'm basically for ending this system where wives always stand back while the emperor speaks, or walk behind him. That kind of image says a lot to ordinary people."

20 comments:

37383938393839383938383 said...

Those who want to preserve the male line have no problem with a woman serving as empress. They have a problem with abandoning the actual lineage of the original emperor. Aiko could serve as empress, and then a male heir within the original line could serve after her. The issue is not feminism at all (as everyone agrees that Aiko could be empress, and there have been at least eight such empresses before). The question is what to do once Aiko is dead.

Ann Althouse said...

CritOb: Yes, the article is clear on that. There have been empresses in the past, but the issue is the lineage. So actually both groups could be satisfied at least (in the case of feminists) partially.

e said...

I'm glad the article began with the fact that eight women have been Empresses. (In fact two twice, so that's 10 out of 125.) It's usually just the kind of detail that is left out or buried or not known.

Balfegor said...

"Despite the ancientness of the tradition"

Following up on what Earnest said, isn't the actual succession law here a Meiji regulation? It's not all that ancient at all. Maybe 140 years at most.

Balfegor said...

"The issue is not feminism at all (as everyone agrees that Aiko could be empress, and there have been at least eight such empresses before). The question is what to do once Aiko is dead."

Thinking about the succession question further, it occurs to me -- weren't all the collateral lines of the Imperial house still active in the early part of Hirohito's reign? They should be direct lineal descent from someone (probably the Meiji Emperor), but my recollection is that they were deprived of their Imperial status under American pressure. Couldn't the throne pass to one of them -- or, more practicably, couldn't one of them marry the young Princess, so that the line of paternal descent continues to trace back to the old Imperial line, and the chain of Emperors remains unbroken?

Palladian said...

Isn't it weird that there are still kings and queens and emperors? I mean, what? Empress? Sure, the tradition thing is nice, in a costume pageant sort of way, but seriously...

Cue hyperbolic lefty commenter to say something about Chimperor Bush, 5...4...3...

Elizabeth said...

Let's see, the topic is Japan's imperial line, and we're all engaged in a civil, thought-provoking discussion, until, cue caustic, partisan rightwingnut to invoke lefty strawman:

Cue hyperbolic lefty commenter to say something about Chimperor Bush

Are you just congenitally incapable of having a conversationg that doesn't disparage the "other"? That's a shame.

Palladian said...

Elizabeth, first of all, don't call me a "rightwingnut", as I am neither "rightwing" (whatever the f**k that means anymore) nor a nut. Second, I am not "congenitally" incapable of much, save perhaps giving birth and leaping tall buildings with a single bound. Third, you might want to visit a doctor and check if you are congenitally deficient of a sense of humor. In other words, lighten up, comrade.

Elizabeth said...

Palladian,

My sense of humor is fine, and if you ever say something funny, I'll laugh along with you. My sense of humor isn't at fault here. Your gratuitous anti-left remark is at best a cheap laugh. If you take subjects that aren't remotely partisan and add your nasty little anti-left spin, then don't whine about being mistaken for a wingnut.

P. Froward said...

Hey, look what Benazir Bhutto did for the status of women in Pakistan.

Elizabeth, some lefties have a bit of a Tourette's thing with off-topic anti-Bush tirades. We've all seen it. Like Birchers or any other kind of kook, they're a fit subject for humor. He didn't say all lefties are like that. Take a deep breath, okay?

But good call on noticing that it's those scary "rightwingnuts" who disparage the "other", instead of people like you. I mean, it's "them" who disparage the "other", not "us". That's why "us" are better! Right?

Elizabeth said...

P.

That's a good point. It's the lefties with Tourette's who spew hate, not the wingnuts. Got it. That's a funny one!

Balfegor said...

Oh pish posh. I'm a right wing nut meself. Ten thousand years of life to the Emperor! 万歳!万歳!万歳!

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Here's an article about the debate over imperial succession in Japan. The princess's problems with depression and anxiety after giving birth only to a daughter

The Crown Princess suffered severe bouts of depression LONG before she gave birth to her only child.

She gave up her promising diplomatic career to marry the Crown Prince, not realising that the Japanese Court is the most stultifying Court in the world.

They have actually regressed than the relatively informal post-WWII times of Emperor Hirohito, when he went around talking to people quite naturally (for their standards).

The problem isn't female primogeniture, but the personality and deficiencies of the Crown Princess herself.

Cheers,
Victoria

Balfegor said...

"They have actually regressed than the relatively informal post-WWII times of Emperor Hirohito, when he went around talking to people quite naturally (for their standards)."

Really? Certainly, Hirohito went around talking to people "informally," after a fashion. Visited Disneyland, etc. His viewing of the country had some parallels to the tours the Meiji Emperor had taken earlier, I think, so that the populace might submit the gaze of their Emperor. And of course, it was also necessary for his line that he remain a real presence in his subjects' imagination, so that the dynasty might endure. But both the Heisei Emperor and the Crown Prince Naruhito do that too, if in a more nakedly modern fashion -- after the big Kobe quake a few years ago, for example, recall that the Crown Prince, I think it was, visited the disaster area shortly after the quake itself actually hit, and talked with the commoners. And most of the humanising aspects of Hirohito's progress through his country can be achieved more easily today with television. Consider, for example, those cute videos one sometimes sees on Japanese television, where the Crown Prince and his wife play with their daughter, the Princess Aiko, all dressed very casually for picnics and whatnot. I think this sort of material serves much the same function that Hirohito's progress did (and that the Meiji Emperor's progress did too).

That said, though, the fact that the Showa Emperor exchanged a few words with the populace (principally "Sou desu-ka?" -- "Oh indeed?" -- if reports are to be believed) hardly changes the fact that his life was a kind of prison of ritual after the war as before it. He continued to perform the ceremonies the Emperor is obliged to perform (some sort of worship of the sun goddess Amaterasu, I understand), and continued to live hidden away in his gigantic palace compounds in Tokyo and Kyoto and elsewhere, insulated from the eyes of the public by vast gardens and moats and high walls except on New Years (and his birthday, now Green Day? I forget). His wife always walked a few steps behind him, just as the wives of the Heisei Emperor and his son do today.

Admittedly, I have never laid eyes on any of the Imperial family, except through a television screen or a magazine photograph, so it is not as though I have personal experience to draw upon in comparing post-WWII Showa and Heisei, but I really do not see the current Imperial family being much stricter or more formal than it was after WWII.

Balfegor said...

"Does anyone still believe in some sort of 'divine' status for the..um...'Emperor,' "

I feel fairly certain there are a nontrivial number of Japanese who still venerate the Emperor -- not, perhaps, as a God-Emperor, but as something more than merely human.

One summer, I worked at a Japanese law office in Koujimachi, which abuts the western edge of the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds. The New Prince Otani hotel, if you know it, is in that vicinity. Every Friday, around teatime, a long procession of black vans would make its way down the street, blaring martial music and a sort of call and response I could not understand. At the end of the street (Shinjuku-doori, I think), just before the Palace Grounds, the policemen would set up a sort of barricade, so that the protesters could not reach the Grounds. The black vans were, of course, full of fascists and populists and the like, but some number of them apparently held the Emperor in great veneration, which was why his palace, if only the rear of it, was the focus and terminus of their weekly protest. The police, I think, would not allow them to pass by the main gate.

Reporters too are supposed to be continually under intimidation by street gangs and yakuza or something, and I recall reading that paparazzi or tabloids which publish unfavourable or embarassing reports about the Imperial family not infrequently find that their reporters have been beaten about with lead pipes.

What is more, the Japanese continue to have a great many taboos about representations of the Imperial family on film. Ancient Emperors, certainly -- they appear in those period dramas from time to time -- but Hirohito et al? Not so much. There was an article in the LA Times (I think it was) not long ago, profiling the first Japanese actor ever to play the Emperor Hirohito in a Japanese production. Shot entirely from behind, never full on.

These are not pictures of a society in which the Emperor is an object of indifference or ridicule (as are, say, the Windsors). There are certainly elements of the terror of the Divine in it too. I think there are people in Japan who still consider the Emperor semi-Divine.

Balfegor said...

""Republic of Japan" has a nice ring to it, no?"

That would be what -- 日本民国? Or perhaps 大日本民國, after the fashion of South Korea (大韓民國), and the old Great Japanese Empire (大日本帝國)?

I think it sounds absurd and bureaucratic. Best for Japan to remain simply Japan (or 日本), without all this frippery about Republics and whatnot.

panther33 said...

"The problem isn't female primogeniture, but the personality and deficiencies of the Crown Princess herself." I think this more than a little unfair. The stresses of living the very public, yet isolated existence of the Japanese royal family are considerable, especially for female members. A lot of people's deficiencies would become apparent living under that kind of microscope.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
satrain18 said...

Luckily, we didn't hava "People's Republic of Japan" (i.e. Communist North Japan) to deal with.