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Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005

MEDIA MIX

Getting hitched and escaping from the Imperial self-preservation society


Ever since it was revealed more than a year ago that Princess Nori would marry civil servant Yoshiki Kuroda, the media have expressed mild concern about her future as a commoner, implying that it might be difficult for her to adjust to life in the real world.

The 152 million yen she received as royal severance pay generated coverage that gives the impression it is meant to cushion her fall into the world of household cleaning products and mortgage payments.

Though the weeklies are already discussing the couple's honeymoon, I doubt that cameramen will start stalking the ex-royal at her local Family Mart. Since last Tuesday she's been Mrs. Sayako Kuroda and, thus, theoretically, fair game, but once a princess always a princess. As all the experts have told us, the Japanese imperial line is unique, having continued unbroken for more than 2,600 years, meaning the blood of all its members is still "pure."

The unbroken male line thing is, of course, hogwash and everybody knows it, but it's not polite to point it out because that would compromise the Japanese royal family's historical authority and thus its standing as the symbol of Japanese unity. These are hot issues at the moment due to ongoing discussions about changing the law to allow a woman to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, and the media have limited their coverage and comments of the issue to that discussion.

Last month, Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, the chairman of the government panel on Imperial succession, told reporters that he and his colleagues had come to the conclusion that the law should be changed to allow a woman on the throne, though the panel had yet to decide on succession priority. This would all be worked out by the time the panel made its report at the end of this month.

In surveys, the public has overwhelmingly supported the idea of a female on the throne, saying that the Imperial family should change in step with society.

Usually, the media go along with the public, but since Yoshikawa's announcement they've mostly gone the other way. Even the Asahi Shimbun, which earlier this year supported a female on the throne, said in a recent editorial that the panel was taking the matter too lightly.

The weekly magazines tended to agree that the panel was mostly a front. Apparently, it was Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's idea, and since Koizumi has not been shy about expressing his support for a female on the throne, the panel was seen as simply a rubber stamp. They say that only Yoshikawa and his alternate attended all the panel meetings, with the others showing up when they wanted to and mostly listening to the chairman's opinions.

It doesn't really matter, since the issue will eventually be decided by the Diet, but most media have bought the idea that Japan should maintain the patriarchal line. Shukan Bunshun published a piece on the degradation that husbands of European monarchs suffer, and everyone is covering the groups and prominent individuals who have come out to protest female succession in the wake of Yoshikawa's announcement.

What they don't cover are the groups who are against the emperor system itself and which have been around for a long time. The existence of the panel effectively compartmentalized the discussion and removed it from the public realm, where there was a danger of it leading to a broader discussion of the whole question of whether or not Japan still needs an emperor. Yoshikawa said as much when he commented that the Japanese people's opinion would have no bearing on the panel's decision.

Sometimes the legitimacy of the emperor system is discussed indirectly. Last month Asahi Shimbun published a letter from a 74-year-old man that generated some interesting reader reactions, both for and against. "Everyone talks about [the war-renouncing] Article 9," the man wrote, "but no one talks about Article 1," the clause that establishes the emperor as the "symbol of the people."

"As long as he is a symbol," the man said, "there is always someone above the people."

Chizuko Ueno, a University of Tokyo professor who usually writes on social and family issues, had an opinion piece published by the Asahi in which she said the same thing.

People cannot be symbols, she wrote, and it is undemocratic to claim that one person "innately deserves more respect than another person." The emperor system codifies an arbitrarily defined hierarchy. Ueno also explains how the myth of the unbroken line of 125 emperors was perpetrated during the Meiji Restoration by creating in hindsight "historical continuity" where none existed. If Ueno doesn't support a female on the throne then it's because she doesn't support a throne, period. She supports human rights, and she says the royal family should be set free.

The Japanese people were not consulted after World War II as to whether or not they wanted to keep the emperor. They had more important things on their mind, like not starving.

It's undemocratic for the authorities to imply that the matter is closed and unethical of the media to go along with it.

In any case, their interests aren't necessarily related to matters of conscience or even propriety. The Imperial Household Agency, like all bureaucratic organs, has as its starting point self-preservation.

If a female is allowed on the throne it will mean a larger imperial family, since all female members will be allowed to remain in the palace after they get married, presumably along with their husbands and children. That means more work for the IHA, but it also means less chance of escape for female royals. As it turns out, Mrs. Kuroda got married just in time.



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