On Friday, June 16, the special, one-time law that allows the emperor’s abdication will be promulgated. Except for the Liberal Party, whose members left before the vote during June 9’s plenary session, all parties supported the new law.
It is the first abdication in nearly 200 years, since that of 119th Emperor Koukaku in 1817 during the Edo Period. Post-abdication, Emperor Akihito will assume the title of “Retired Emperor” (Joukou in Japanese), while Empress Michiko will become “Retired Empress” (Joukougou).
According to the special exemption law, the date of the abdication shall be decided by the Imperial House Council within three years of the promulgation and specified by Cabinet order. Considering this, the government will convene an Imperial House Council this summer to decide the schedule for official duties, such as the Accession Ceremony to Inherit Imperial Regalia (the transfer of the three sacred treasures) and His Majesty’s First Audience Ceremony after the Accession (with the head of the legislature, executive, judiciary, and other representatives of the people).
However, while the special exemption law has passed, discussions regarding imperial succession continue. Rui Abiru, editorial writer and political section editing committee member of the Sankei Shimbun, explains the core issues.
After the special exemption law passed on June 9, allowing Emperor Akihito’s abdication, the focus will move to preventing the decline of the imperial line, and ensuring its stability. The government should tackle the issue head-on, considering that imperial traditions have continued without exception for 125 generations, to ensure the patrilineal line of imperial succession.
“The Imperial House Law should be revised to allow female members of the imperial household to maintain their imperial status, and allow for the creation of an imperial family headed by a woman.” These are the comments made by Ren Ho, leader of the Democratic Party, on the passing of the special exemption law. It is an argument that so spectacularly misses the point.
The Imperial House Law stipulates that “imperial succession shall be patrilineal,” so even creating a female imperial branch will not increase the number of heirs. If, by revision of the Imperial House Law, heirs of a female imperial branch were permitted to inherit the throne, then that would bring about acceptance of matrilineal succession. That “would be a different line from then on,” as pointed out by Makoto Oniki, LDP member of the House of Representatives.
Members of the Democratic Party have emphasized their understanding of Emperor Akihito’s intentions, saying that they can “surmise well enough” (Yoshihiko Noda, Secretary) and “confidently surmise” (Goshi Hosono, former acting leader).
However, would the Emperor really desire the establishment of a female line, given his position of deeply respecting imperial rituals and traditions? At the very least, the Prime Minister’s office has clearly stated, “Even within the imperial household, there is absolutely no intention of establishing a matrilineal emperor.”
Moreover, currently patrilineal heir, Prince Hisahito, son of Prince Akishino, is third in line to the throne. Hypothetically speaking, what would happen to his position if a matrilineal line was recognized?
A government official has aired this concern: “A situation will develop where the question of who has the more legitimate claim” will occur between him and the daughter of the Crown Prince Naruhito, Princess Aiko, who currently has no claim to the throne. Consequently, the establishment of a female imperial branch will not only make finding a marriage partner harder, but it undeniably has the potential to cause unexpected havoc.
Meanwhile, the notion of re-establishing the imperial lines lost after GHQ’s post-war policy of abolishing other imperial branches with the intent of weakening the imperial household. It drew criticism, emphasizing the dilution of the bloodline. “Some former imperial families were separated from the line about 700 years ago,” said a May 18 editorial of the Asahi Shimbun.
However, within the former imperial families, the four houses of Takeda, Kitashirakawa, Asaka, and Higashikuni welcomed princesses from Emperor Mutsuhito’s household (Meiji Era). Higashikuni also welcomed princesses from Emperor Hirohito’s household (Showa Period). The blood ties are actually quite close.
According to imperial family expert Professor Kazuo Yawata of Tokushima Bunri University, tens of male descendants from imperial branches had been demoted between the Meiji Era and the end of World War II, and from the highest levels of Edo Period nobility. There is also the view that some of these descendants, if they were willing, could carry out duties as temporary employees of the Imperial Household Agency.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bunmei Ibuki, previously offered the idea of establishing both patrilineal and matrilineal imperial lines.
“In the event of a marriage with a private citizen, if a princess were to marry a member of a demoted patrilineal imperial branch and subsequently bear a male heir, they would be able to maintain imperial status for one generation,” he said.
As stipulated in the Constitution, marriage is decided upon the “agreement of both parties.” It is true that the problem of finding a suitable marriage partner remains. However, the reality is that, since the end of the war, most imperial princesses have married former nobility, cultured families, and so forth. I hope the government will move quickly to consider this.