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Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006

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The Japanese Chrysanthemum Thrown


Congratulations to Princess Kiko and Prince Akishino on the birth of their baby! While the fact that it is a boy is even greater news for the royal family, it's a shame for Japan. Looking for excuses not to face modern realities, Japan may now wallow in its past of allowing only male heirs of male lineage to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, rather than become a model of a progressive First World country.

I was in the train station when I heard the news, broadcast by hot-off-the-press special four-page editions of the Yomiuri newspaper in both Japanese and English. The last time I received one of these editions was when Crown Princess Masako had a baby girl. The current edition shouted headlines that the baby was "the first male born to the throne in 41 years," as if this was something highly unusual. It isn't, however, considering that previous emperors such as Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) used concubines in order to obtain a male heir. When Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989) made the decision to end the tradition of using concubines, one wonders if he didn't foresee the possibility of a woman ascending the throne.

Indeed, the timing of the 37-year-old princess' baby seems impeccable, as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a male himself, had just last year submitted a bill proposing that the Imperial Household Law be revised to allow females to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne. Like me, he seems to prefer a woman's touch when it comes to flowers.

If the Imperial household is based on hereditary blood lines, so be it, but why is it based on the male's line? Because it is superior? Cow patties! I have yet to see a comparison of the blood of male royals and those of female royals, or even commoners, showing that blood type "R" is better than A, B, AB or O.

The next in line to the throne should, quite simply, be the firstborn child, whether male or female. To tell the firstborn she cannot reign because she is not a boy is telling her she is, well, you know -- shhhhhh -- not good enough. It's bad enough that Princess Mako (14 years older) will have to yield to her younger brother, but Princess Aiko, the first born on the male line, is really getting stiffed. Not only will the emperor be inferior in age to her, he is also a mere cousin. Aiko can probably give up the hope of ever being called "sempai" by him.

If Princess Aiko, as the firstborn, were allowed to ascend the throne, she would be the ninth female monarch and the first since the 18th century. So what if the previous empresses were of the male line?

Yet everywhere you go in Japan, you see signs telling us, "Stop discrimination!" Japanese teachers are told to treat girls and boys equally in the classroom. The Ministry of Education seems to understand that favoring one gender leads to discrimination. We commoners also understand this. So why not the Diet?

Our current benevolent emperor (whose wife was the first commoner to become crown princess after the war) describes the job of the imperials family as "one in which the emperor and members of the Imperial family endeavor to share hardships and joys together with the people, and carry out their duties while wishing for the happiness of the people." Who is to say that Princess Aiko could not or would not do this?

So what's the big deal about having a reigning woman anyway? Exactly. There is no big deal. And everyone knows this. Apparently, however, some rightwing conservatives want to preserve the male lineage of Imperial succession. Why? They want to keep tradition. Cow patties! That doesn't explain why it should be continued. After all, many other traditions have changed over the centuries. For example, that car you're driving? We used to have a tradition of using horses.

Well then, perhaps it is because it's the Imperial Household Law, so it shouldn't change. Cow patties! New laws are made every day. The law of males in the male line to take the throne didn't even come into being until 1889 under the Meiji Constitution. Before then, women could and did ascend to the throne. Laws, clearly, can be changed.

The only answer as to why a woman cannot ascend the throne is, quite simply, male chauvinism.

But in these enlightened, modern times, must we be reduced to such ignorance that one sex, one race, or one religion is better than the next? I don't know anyone who considers themselves sexist, racist, or even a terrorist. People feel these labels do not apply to them because, they believe, their situation is different. It's because of tradition, history or God, and therefore is justified.

But the Japanese people will not be cowed. They know that, despite the Imperial Household Laws, the only way to stop discrimination is to treat everyone equally -- no exceptions. Ditto for the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

Japan's Chrysanthemum Thrown. One small step for a man, one giant leap backward for mankind.

Amy Chavez is author of "Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won't tell you"


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