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How Japan became so patriarchal and what that means for the throne



Twelve-year-old Hisahito, son of Crown Prince Akishino, is second to the Chrysanthemum Throne when Akishino's older brother Naruhito inherits the crown from his father on May 1.

Akishino becomes his first in line, but already 53.

"The entire future of the imperial family depends on a young boy – that he will stay healthy and be ready to marry children with his wife and children have, "says Ben-Ami Shillony. Professor of Japanese at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Conservative and patriarchal Japan excludes women who make up 13 of the 18 members of the royal family from accession to the throne. This was not always the case.

Empresses dominated Japan at various times over several centuries until they were closed in 1889.

Female Rulers

Archeological studies of tombs show that female leaders dominated Western Japan According to Chizuko T. Allen, a historian at the University of Michigan, in the fourth century.

These women, buried alongside iron weapons and tools, are competent political, military, and religious leaders, Allen says. Graves for male chiefs appeared only in the fifth century, she writes in an article published in the Japan Forum.

While the tradition of female rulers and chiefs was commonplace in ancient Japan, Shillony says that history books tend to emphasize the art of male emperors.

"Even though the female Empress has achieved many things, they are still not considered as outstanding as the male emperors," he says.

The first Japanese Empress, Suiko, ruled from 592 for about 35 years until her death and is recognized as the country's first constitution. The mighty Empress Koken ruled twice: first from 749 to 758 and then as Shotoku from 764 to 770, to spread Buddhism beyond the capital.
Empress Genmei (707-715) even put her daughter Gensho on the throne after her own abdication and believed that she would become a better monarch than Crown Prince Obito, as University of Michigan historian Hitomi Tonomura said.
  Empress Jingu, depicted in a woodcut, is regarded as a quasi-mythical, quasi-historical figure.

Some historians claim that the Empresses were merely puppet rulers who abdicate when a suitable male heir came of age. Others say that they shaped Japanese history more than their male counterparts.

"From today's point of view, it is interesting to think how the contribution of the empresses of Japan in the past to the history has so dwindled," says the historian of the University of Michigan, Hitomi Tonomura.

"By completely ignoring these women or interpreting their role as mere" fillers "between (imperial) men, Japanese society offers no historical idea of ​​what women can and do."

Modern Japan

With the Modernization of Japan During the Meiji era from 1868 to 1912, the then leaders changed the role of the Emperor and reinstated him as military commander-in-chief. –

Since a woman could no longer command the military, the Meiji leaders believed it would not make sense to have ruling female empresses, Shillony says. An exclusively male succession was established.

The desire to recreate the West was also strong.

The leaders of Meiji were inspired by the Prussian constitution – which forbade women to ascend the throne – and in 1889 forbade women to be enthroned, Shillony says. They did not want to repeat the British model in which Queen Victoria ruled.

Instead, the period saw a masculinization of the emperor and Japanese society in general, while the Meiji regime emphasized the perceived superiority of men over women.

"In the Meiji Constitution is the term" ie "(House) It was enrolled – these subordinate wives and household members under a patriarch – this was not the case before," says the historian Tonomura.

Tonomura explains that modern Japan became formally a patriarchal society during the Meiji period. Some Meiji laws on birthright and marriages, such as married couples with the same last name (generally the male), are still valid today.

US Influence

The US occupation after Japan's defeat in World War II brought society into society with the slow introduction of American values.

Under the postwar constitution, the emperor's position was changed from ruler to imperial family representative was prohibited from engaging in politics. While the women were given the right to vote in 1945, no effort was made to restore their right to the throne.

"The US did not want to alienate the Japanese establishment by degrading its status as an emperor," Shillony says. "People believed that the issue of sex in the imperial family should be addressed by future governments."

These discussions finally came together in 2004 under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose cabinet formed a panel of politicians and scientists to look at the problem. At that time, the imperial family had not produced a male heir since 1965, while Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako had a daughter named Aiko in 2001.
  Crown Princess Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito together with daughter Princess Aiko during a family outing on August 16, 2002 in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan.

Under current law, only male heirs can claim the throne with paternal emperors. The panel's report proposed a legal amendment to either allow a female monarch or reinstate members of the old aristocracy who were deprived of their royal status after the Second World War.

But the proposal provoked strong opposition from Japan's ultra-conservatives, says Shillony. The plans were lifted when Hisahito was born in 2006 by Princess Kiko, the wife of Crown Prince Akishino.

Unreformed Chrysanthemum Thrones

Faced with changing global attitudes to gender equality, nearly two-thirds of Japanese favor a change in the law for women taking the throne, according to a 2017 survey by Mainichi Shimbun.

The debate about it whether women who marry citizens are allowed to stay in the imperial family has also re-emerged.

Nevertheless, female leadership in Japan remains elusive on the whole, although the government has endeavored to empower working women in a system called "womenomics".

Only 10% of Japanese House politicians are women, according to previously published data The year is one of the worst gender imbalances in the world.

Unconscious gender stereotypes and the claim of men are still omnipresent in Japan, says Tonomura.

And despite the legacy of powerful female rulers, the prospect of a modern equivalent is far removed without taking significant steps to eradicate inequality between the sexes.

"Some women think that a female Empress is a kind of role model," says Tonomura. "But getting a female monarch is wishful thinking at the time."

The only probable change in the Monarchy in the near future is that princesses may remain in the imperial family, even if they marry a commoner. That could possibly, says Shillony, pave the way for a female follower in the future.

Graphics by CNNs Jason Kwok and Natalie Leung.


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