TOKYO – “It is a boy! Princess Kiko gives birth to first male heir to the throne in 41 years,” read the front-page of the Japanese daily Yomiuri on Sept. 7, 2006 – voicing the collective relief of the country at the arrival of its prince, who on Tuesday turned 10 years old.
Prince Hisahito’s birth in 2006 had also postponed an urgent reform in the law (that governs the Japanese royal family) to allow women to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, which currently only direct male descendants of the emperor can occupy.
The idea that Princess Aiko – Hisahito’s cousin and daughter of crown prince Naruhito and his wife Masako – could eventually become head of state was revoked shortly after the birth of Hisahito and remains unchanged even a decade later.
Current emperor, Akihito, 82, in a rare televised message to the people last month recalled that the Salic law is not the only aspect under debate and expressed his desire to abdicate, although the current law has no provision for abdication before death.
The law – outlined in 1947 and included in the Constitution by Japan during the U.S. occupation – doesn’t have any provision for abdication (although several emperors had abdicated until the nineteenth century) and retained the patrilineal succession that was included in the Magna Carta of the Prussian court, adopted by the country in 1889.
However, before this period, eight women had ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, the last queen being Go-Sakuramachi between 1762 and 1770.
However, many conservative scholars still maintain that the mandates of these queens were of a temporary or interim nature, and therefore the Salic law must prevail.
Apart from the complexity involved in amending the Constitution (no article has been amended since 1947), strong sentiments regarding such reforms have meant Japanese lawmakers have refrained from amending the law that governs the world’s oldest monarchical institution.
The law had also eliminated collateral branches of the royal family in such a way that all women born in the family lose their royal status after marriage, which has substantially reduced the number of its members since then.
Owing to the 1947 law, and an outdated succession system, the Japanese royal family faces the XXI century as an extremely aged institution doomed to a wide generation gap.