September 6, 2006

Princess Kiko and Princess Masako.

So there's finally a new male heir to the Japanese throne, produced by Princess Kiko, after all these years of pressure on Princess Masako. This apparently ends the recent debate about whether a female could ascend to the throne, but I think the more interesting feminist issue is the way Masako and Kiko are perceived and compared:
The birth may ... end the psychological drama surrounding the royal family, especially Princess Masako. When she gave up a career in diplomacy to marry [Crown Prince Naruhito] in 1993, she was heralded as a modern Japanese woman who could perhaps even modernize the imperial institution. But the princess was soon confronted with the reality that she was now expected to do only one thing: bear a male heir.

When the couple finally had a child, it was a girl, Princess Aiko. The Imperial Household Agency, the powerful bureaucracy that oversees the royal family, kept up the pressure to have another child, and Princess Masako eventually slipped into a depression.

Her plight led the crown prince to hold an extraordinary news conference two years ago, in which he stated that he would not let his wife be sacrificed for the greater good of the monarchy. “There has been a move,” the prince said, “to deny Masako’s career and personality.”

Prince Akishino, who had always lived in his older brother’s shadow, criticized his brother and sister-in-law by saying that they must put their public duties above all....

Princess Kiko, the daughter of a university professor who never had a career before marrying, has become the darling of the Japanese media. By contrast, Princess Masako has increasingly become a target, routinely criticized by the conservative media for her supposed selfishness and lack of common sense.
As an American, viewing this from afar, I'm rooting for Princess Masako. I don't like seeing Kiko getting the jump on her. But maybe my Japanese readers can add some dimension in the comments.

29 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I agree: Go Princess Masako! It strikes me that there's always an underlying assumption that the woman is somehow at fault when the child is a female, when of course it's the man's contribution that is determining the sex. Good for her husband to tell people he married a woman and not an incubator!

Michael Farris said...

"But the princess was soon confronted with the reality that she was now expected to do only one thing: bear a male heir."

I disapprove of the slur 'breeders' most of the time, but when it comes to royalty the term fits. What a revolting institution!

FXKLM said...

I don't understand the sympathy for Masako. She's born into a very comfortable life, and all she's expected to do in return is act dignified in public and produce children. That part of the royal tradition isn't even really sexist as that's most of what's expected of male members of the royal family also. It sounds like a pretty good deal to me. She has a lot of nerve to complain about it.

Truly said...

The Japanese monarchy is as conservative an institute as you're likely to find, and not an altogether welcoming one for women (from what I understand). I think it's very creditable that her husband stood up for her, considering his upbringing. So, I say: Go Masako! and Go Naruhito! and little Princess Aiko!

Of course, I'm letting 'The Tale of Genji' color my views on the subject.

The Drill SGT said...

FXKIM,

while I'm not in the Masako rooting section here, she married into it rather than being born into it.

She made her decision.

altoids1306 said...

Not Japanese, but...

The imperial family in Japan serves some of the same purposes of other figureheads, providing a sense of tradition and continuinity, but I think the crucial difference is that unlike the European monarchs, they expected to be the paragon of traditional virtue, not run amok on the tabloids.

The imperial palace is still maintained as if it were the Tokugawa shogunate - the grounds are guarded by archers and swordsmen, who themselves are decendants of imperial servant families. The imperial family maintains an entire ecosystem of tradition.

And then there is the political aspect - the far-right conservative wing, unapologetic for WWII, believe the legitimacy of imperial rule. The far right has ties to the Japanese mafia (whom are loosely patterned after the feudal system).

So add this all together, and there are a few powerful forces at work here, even if most Japanese are largely indifferent, or sympathetic to Princess Masako.

David said...

Speaking as a gaijin-san, I can only say, "Good luck Masako" and welcome to the world of royalty, a la Britain's Princess Diana. The politics at court are brutal.

Jennifer said...

To my grandmother's consternation, I've never paid any attention to what goes on in Japan. But, while I feel for Masako, I don't have any problem with Kiko "getting the jump" on her. Should Kiko have not had children? Just because the media has been treating this like a horse race doesn't mean the women themselves see it that way.

Besides, the pressure will likely be off Masako now. So all good, all around.

Goesh said...

I wish the new Prince rots of ruck as he embarks in life - I'm sorry, I couldn't resist that, delete it or ban me if you must...all this hoopla over the gender of a baby deserves a crude bashing

Jennifer said...

Wouldn't that be as he embarks in rife?

Eugene said...

As ironies go, this one's hard to beat: "According to Rikikazu Sugiyama, director of Sugiyama Ladies Clinic in Tokyo and an expert in obstetrics and gynecology, sex selection is a serious matter for many couples, not just royalty. The fertility expert noted that, unlike the Imperial family, eight out of 10 patients at his clinic desire a baby girl, believing they are easier to raise."

Slocum said...

I have to say that I'm much less interested in any kind of reform of hereditary nobility than in seeing it wither and die. So Kiko and Masako's baby troubles are pretty uninteresting. The best things royals can do is take after those in England and act as shabbily as possible so their 'subjects' will get sick of them and give them the boot.

Even if they're now only figureheads, the very idea of 'hereditary nobility' is just inherently offensive.

altoids1306 said...

Koizumi seems to be quite level-headed about it all. He says "There is no need for rapid reform of imperial family traditions/law," but he also says, "Looking to the future, it is imperative that we recognize female ascension to the throne." (Link in Japanese)

On the other hand, significant segments of Japan are celebrating - companies and stores putting out banners, giving away toys to babies, stands with free sake, song and dance. (Link in English)

Goesh said...

( I didn't want to push my ruck, Jennifer....)

Jennifer said...

ROR, Goesh.

Goesh said...

-I don't think I would want to challenge you to a game of scrabble or chess....

nicky said...

Ann,

Just for the record, eight women have been Emperors, er, rather Empresses of Japan. That's out of a total of 125. (I hope that last number of 125 is right, if not someone will tell me.) Another small point--to understand the nature of royalty in Japan it is important to understand the religious aspect of their position. It is what is most important. Throughout the year they take part in designated rituals mostly related to Shintoism. Mostly I say, since for example, on Buddha's birthday the Emperor also pays tribute to the Buddha by washing a statue of him, so this is not entirely correct, and up until the Meiji Reformation, the integration of Shintoist and Buddhist practices was something encouraged. The next time one is tempted to begin preaching about the insularity of Japanese customs and the awful conservatism here one might consider how it was that an important festival such as the Gion Festival in Kyoto, more than a millenium old, is basically a parade of Gods from other countries, including China and India, but also includes presentations of scenes from the Bible and the Koran. Getting over this woefully inadequate image of Japan as historically closed off, this and banging down the nail that sticks up, is perhaps the first steps to beginning to understand Japan. But I digress. In any case, the Emperor in order to be able to take part in these rituals effectively, is expected to maintain a high degree of morality (often Confucian) as well are those he/she comes into contact with. Most importantly the immediate family. If one were trying to find an equivalent to this in the West, I'm tempted to suggest the role of the Kohen (the descendants of Aaron) Tribe in the Jewish religion. The Kohenim (I think that is right) are the guardians of the Temple, the priestly class, and all sorts of special laws and prohibitions apply to them, such as they are not allowed to be under the same roof as a corpse or go to a gravesite, etc... While whether one is Jewish or not is determined by ones Mother, the tribe one belongs to is passed on via the Father. The crux of the problem with succession, is not so much whether a women could be Empress, indeed women have been Empresses, one quite superbly, a veritable Queen Elizabeth, but how the line of descent is to work. For thousands of years the line has passed through the mail.

Sorry about the not very well put together comments above, but onto the thrust of Ann's question. Princess Kiko and her husband are very down to earth and show great ease in public. Low key. Well-spoken. Soon to laugh and smile. Sharp. The two daughters they have raised are also splendid. Not at all uptight or pretentious. The littlest one a demon on ice skates. The eldest daughter getting through the teen years with grace. Now they have a little brother. He's in good hands. Princess Kiko like the current Emperor's wife and Princess Masako are all commoners, so to speak, married into the business by their own free will, no compulsion at all, and all have had similar responsibilities and pressures, though to differing degrees. Two of them seem to enjoy, nay relish, the challenges and opportunities, as well as responsibilites, their life has afforded them, and both have been very effective in both their traditional roles (and this doesn't mean the breeding stuff, geez) and in creating new roles for themselves and their husbands. Princess Masako has had a difficult time of it. It is my hope the birth of the new Prince takes the pressure off her and by extension Aiko, and allows her to do a better job of getting herself and her husband ready for the responsibilities their future holds. In the past, of course, the Emperors had all sorts of lovers so the availabilty of male heirs was much less of a problem, and those next in line not quite up for the job were quick to give ground to those more able, including women.

reader_iam said...

all she's expected to do in return is act dignified in public and produce children

Produce MALE children, which she can't exactly control, which makes the "All" rather daunting. Different kind of pressure than just producing children.

Robin said...

I can't believe I actually know anything about the Japanese royal family--my friends call me the queen of crap knowledge though, so maybe that's why I can contribute the following tidbits.

Masako *was* pressured to marry the Prince. It seems he asked her 'several' times and it was common knowledge in Japan that he didn't want anyone but her. She was very unwilling to give up her career, although she cared for him. Eventually she did what was she was told was her duty.

The role of women in Japan is far from equal, btw. For example, if a woman is publically drunk in public, her HUSBAND is arrested or fined because he didn't monitor and control her behavior. Not exactly a modern view of things.

Also, Masako had a great deal of trouble conceiving her only child. I believe there were several miscarriages involved and eventually some type of fertility intervention. Her delivery was followed by severe postnatal depression. I don't think it is fair to characterize her as being spoiled or making like her depression was something that she could control. Everyone reacts differently to stress and she was under a great deal of public pressure from the media to have a baby and then public disappointment when it was a girl.

nicky said...

Robin,

There is probably good reason why you can't believe you know anything about the royal family and Japan. The good news is that with your attitude and grasp of the facts, if you apply yourself, you have a real shot at being a reporter for the NYT on the Asian beat.

Masako got married. No one made her. If anything, pressure was on her not to marry into royalty--from both sides of the affair. She took the plunge. Her husband genuinely cares about her, this is obvious, and she about him. She was having problems before the birth of Aiko and after the birth of Aiko. One could go on about this tidbit of yours and the others, and all the other little juicy connections and thoughts that are bound to pop up in a thread on Japan, but why bother. Easier just to be amused. But being a Japanese woman who likes to drink I'd sure like to know where you found that law about my husband having to take responsibility for my action. Do tell! I'm quite sure this is news, wonderful news, to all my drinking buddies. Again, what law is that? Can't wait for the look the police will give me when I tell them what Robin said the next time they catch me swimming naked in the Kamogawa River.

amba said...

Apparently this birth hasn't put the issue to rest. Female succession is now on the table.

Sushizuki said...

Long-time reader/lurker, occasional commenter.

First, as a long-term resident of Japan, I've never heard of anyone -- man or woman -- being arrested for public drunkenness. Go out on a Friday or Saturday evening in an entertainment district in any major city and you will find people literally falling-down drunk. As far as I know, being drunk in public isn't even a crime so long as you aren't causing a nuisance. Additionally, a man is NOT legally responsible for what his wife does. That's hooey.

As for Nicky's comment about the fact that there have been eight reigning empresses in Japan's history, that's correct so far as it goes, but they were nothing but placeholders -- they didn't pass on the throne to their own offspring. So the idea of having a reigning empress who passes on the throne would indeed be a completely new development.

But regarding Nicky's comment that Masako was actually being pressured into NOT marrying into the imperial family, sorry, but that's completely wrong. She clearly didn't want to, but rejecting the Crown Prince's proposal would have ruined her family. She put off giving any answer at all as long as possible in the hopes that the Crown Prince would lost interest, but as he did not, she in the end had no choice. It is widely known that she already had a lover in the Foreign Ministry where she worked . . .

/back to lurking

Aspasia M. said...

I would be absolutely infuriated if I or a relative of mine gave birth to a daughter and people were disappointed in the baby because of its gender.

I would tell the whole world to go jump off a bridge.

The individual child is much more important then a stupid aristo tradition.

Aspasia M. said...

oh - I'm very glad I'm not part of that family.

Masako looked so happy and energetic before she married. Now at best she looks sedate. Poor Masako.

nicky said...

sushizuki,

My whole rather long point above, best not to have gone through the trouble to read (I agree), was that passing on the line through an Empress would be new. I wonder what percent of people who have tried to keep up with this through the foreign press understood that Japan has had Empresses before? On the one hand, "placeholder" is apt, for the imperial line has always been patrilineal, but as for those Empresses in the function of their job, a few were quite successful and influential. Certainly not just biding their time. As for Masako having to marry the Prince or her family would be ruined. Disgraced. It is interesting how some of those who go there, I'm not peaking of you now, tell me on the one hand how the imperial agency didn't think Masako was up for the job and indeed put quite a lot of pressure on the Prince to find someone else, and has bullied Masako from day one in order to prove their point, but that on the other hand if Masako hadn't married the Prince the Imperial Agency would have ruined their family. This kind of conspiratorial thinking and the imagining of power where there really isn't any is mostly mass media driven-- Japan's as well as the foreign press. Both which tend to have their biases. This kind of story is the perfect place for those who have strong opinions to make them the focus of the story and shape a narrative thereabout. The NYT is a master at this. Some comments above also reflect the shooting gallery potential of knowing too little and needing to score points in a big way. Anyway, The Prince wanted to marry Masako, he genuinely cares about her it seems, he courted her, she was less the lover and more the beloved, not an uncommon dichotomy in the will you marry game, and ultimately if she had turned him down, no one but a small inner circle would have been the wiser, and the Prince certainly had a long list of other eligible women to move on to. Masako has been destroyed by sexist, reactionary forces is such an easy narrative to create. I sure hope Masako gets over some of her problems, especially the melancholia. I'm not sure my hopes and her problems wouldn't be much the same, though not in the limelight, if she had continued her career in the foreign service and decided not to marry the Prince. But that can't be. The narrative clearly states Masako would have been the happiest women in the world if she had only not become a Princess. Better start the rewrites for Cinderella.

Michael Farris said...

nicky, ever heard of factions?

I can easily believe that there are/were factions within the imperial agency that did not want Masako to turn down the crown prince and were prepared to use blackmail to achieve that aim. At some point his courtship of her became well known and maybe they didn't like the precedent (if precedent it was) of a commoner turning down the emperor's family (and by extension the emporer himself)
And I can believe that there factions who were ready, willing and able to make things as tough as possible for her. I have no idea if that is the case but all bureacracies I've been involved in have factions and powerful players (not always marked as such in the formal structure) who can and do make things miserable for others.

Finally, a Japanese co-worker of mine is _very_ anti-emperor, and thinks the whole family is useless (and thinks even worse of the imperial agency). Interestingly, this person doesn't dislike all royalty, just (especially) Japan's.

John Mosby said...

The real money quote in this story:

"Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, 60, a cousin of the current emperor, argued for the revival of the concubine system, which in the past had made plenty of child-bearing women available to the emperor."

Everyone wins!

JSM

(word verification: zzzbd - sound emanating from the chambers of a princess no longer worrying about producing an heir)

Robin said...

Nicky--

I don't claim to be an expert on Japan's laws regarding drinking--I only know that a friend of mine was in Japan on business and was in a restaurant and watched a man being arrested because his wife was drunk--or at least, that's how it was explained to him. If it was all a big joke on the American guy to tell him that, then, oops--sorry I passed along misinformation.

Gladis Emb� said...

PRINCESS MASAKO HAD BETTER QUIT THE THRONE, GET HERSELF A GOOD JOB AND START RAISING HER DAUGHTER WHICH, I GUESS, SHE HAS NEVER DONE.
THIS WILL BE A BETTER EXAMPLE TO HERSELF, HER DAUGHTER AND ALL JAPAN.
SHE SHOULDN'T FEEL DEPRESSED FOR NOT HAVING A BOY.
MASAKO, DON'T GIVE UP. TRY TO BE HAPPY!