01/18/2022, 12.42
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Tokyo discusses the imperial succession (and women regents)

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Parliament is debating the rules for dynastic succession. Today, out of 17 members, only three have the right to succeed Naruhito. Despite the fact that the majority of the population supports the opening up of the imperial family to women, the government party maintains the current principle of patrilineal succession.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - This week Japan's bicameral parliament will begin studying the measures needed to ensure the continuation of the imperial family. The ball is now in the parties' court, after Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida presented parliament with a document containing proposals drawn up by an ad hoc council.

To date, the Japanese imperial family has 17 members. However, only three of them have the right to succeed the current emperor Naruhito, who has no male heirs: his younger brother, Prince Fumihito, his 15-year-old nephew, Prince Hisahito, and his 80-year-old uncle, Prince Hitachi.

According to the law governing the imperial household, in fact, only males belonging to the imperial family and descended patrilineally from an emperor may succeed to the chrysanthemum throne. However, the law, passed in 1947 during the US occupation of the country, can be amended by a vote of parliament.

In 2017, in a special law, Japan's parliament allowed the former emperor Akihito to abdicate in favour of his son Naruhito, but in a separate resolution urged the then government of Shinzo Abe to conduct a study on how to maintain a stable line of succession within the imperial household.

The issue was and remains a thorny one for the generally conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Although voices are occasionally raised in favour of opening up the succession to women, the majority of the governing party supports the existing principle of patrilineal succession. It is no coincidence that the two proposals formulated by the ad hoc council created after 2017 and presented for the first time last December do not even mention the possibility of a woman inheriting the imperial throne.

The two proposals, in fact, focus more on how to prevent the lineage from shrinking further. The options that will be studied by parliament this week are the reintegration into the family of certain members that the 1947 law had cut off and the non-exclusion of women from the imperial family even after marriage. The issue is particularly hot given the recent departure of Princess Mako, who married a commoner last October.

For the time being, however, the question can still be left open. At least that is what the LP seems to think. With a parliamentary election scheduled for this summer, it has no intention of eroding its supremacy with decisions that could shake public opinion.

In fact, some polls published in recent years give the image of a country where 80% of the population would welcome the succession of an empress. And yet, thanks mainly to Abe, the LP has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade, and socially conservative voices now represent a fundamental wing of the party.

Caught between public opinion and his own party, Prime Minister Kishida has wasted no time in getting rid of the issue by leaving it to parliament, perhaps in the hope of postponing the debate until after the elections. But if Prince Hisahito's young age means that a decision can still be postponed, the gender inequality underlying the institutional affair, which still deeply permeates the whole of Japanese society, is a crucial issue that raises the question of what kind of country Japan wants to be today.

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