Friday, March 9, 2012

"Should female members retain royal status after marriage?

"Should female members of the Imperial family be allowed to create their own branches of the family and retain their royal status after marriage? If so, should the number of female members who receive the privilege be limited?

"The government has stepped up efforts to examine the issue to cope with the decline in Imperial family members. On Wednesday, the government held its first hearing on the issue at the Prime Minister's Office by meeting with journalist Soichiro Tahara and Akira Imatani, a Japanese culture professor at Teikyo University. The two expressed their approval of female branches of the Imperial family.

"Under the current system, female Imperial family members lose their royal status upon marrying commoners.

""I feel responsible for failing to revise the Imperial House Law seven years ago," an aide to the Emperor said before Wednesday's hearing, recalling a similar attempt to change the Imperial family system.

"In 2005, the administration of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tried to revise the Imperial House Law through his private expert panel.

""The state of the Imperial family's future should be decided by family members, but they may be unable to find a way to resolve the problem [of decreasing members] in time. It would be irresponsible for us to not take measures to allow female Imperial members to retain their status after marriage now," the aide said.

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"Limited time for decision

"In 2005, almost 40 years had passed since the last male eligible to ascend to throne was born to the Imperial family, and people considered it a dire situation.

"The 2005 panel drew up a report recommending the government allow female Imperial members to take the throne, and granting rights of succession to the sons and daughters of a reigning empress, as well as her grandchildren.

"However, the report drew angry responses from those who feel only male family members should be allowed to take the throne. The movement lost momentum after the birth of Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Akishino, in September 2006. Prince Hisahito is the only grandson of the Imperial couple.

"Still, there is a possibility that the number of Imperial family members could decrease significantly in the near future. The 78-year-old Emperor, who underwent heart bypass surgery last month, has been suffering from health problems in recent years. He is said to be especially concerned about victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant--with the problem of sustaining the Imperial family adding to his mental stress.

"Considering the situation, the government has decided to discuss the issue of whether to allow female Imperial members to create their own branches. This would allow the family to maintain the level and range of Imperial duties and build a system in which the family would be able to sufficiently support the Emperor. However, the government has decided to focus only on whether to allow female members to create their own branches, separating the matter from the issue of the Imperial succession.

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"Expand to what extent?

"The main point of contention will be whether to limit the number of female members eligible to create their own branches to an emperor's daughters and granddaughters, and whether men married to female Imperial members and their children should gain royal status.

"Currently, there are eight unmarried female family members. Princesses Aiko, Mako and Kako are direct descendants of the Emperor, while princesses Akiko, Yoko, Tsuguko, Noriko and Ayako are descendants of Prince Mikasa, son of Emperor Taisho and Emperor Showa's brother. Emperor Showa is the father of the current Emperor.

"If only an emperor's daughters and granddaughters are allowed to create their own branches of the family, princesses Akiko, Yoko, Tsuguko, Noriko and Ayako would be ineligible as they are great-grandchildren of Emperor Taisho.

"The financial burden on the government is one reason cited by those who favor limiting the number of female members eligible to create their own family branches.

"The government is in favor of giving royal status to men married to female Imperial members, because it is natural for them to live together with their wives and it will be necessary to limit their freedom of political activity if the female members retain their royal status after marriage.

"However, the issue of whether to give royal status to children of female members who married commoners is more sensitive, as the children will have a royal bloodline only on their mother's side. Currently, male Imperial members who have emperors on their father's side are in line for the throne.

"If the government begins discussing whether to give royal status to children of female Imperial members, it may reignite the 2005 debate, which ended in a deadlock. It focused on whether successors to the Imperial throne should be limited to only male Imperial members who have emperors on their father's side or expand the privilege to female Imperial members and those who have emperors on their mother's side. Some members of the government have proposed postponing the discussions.

"There are people who support the idea of giving royal status to descendants of former Imperial members who lost their royal status after World War II. However, the government is against the idea, saying it will be difficult to obtain public support as the descendants were born as commoners.

"According to sources, the government is currently discussing several proposals. The government plans to interview more than 10 experts on allowing female members of the family to create their own branches by holding hearings once or twice every month for about six months, as well as asking the public to give opinions on the issue."

By Takeshi Okimura and Katsumi Takahashi, Yomiuri Shimbun (3/2/2012), Link to article (last visited 3/9/2012)