Japanese princess, 25, to become a commoner — sparking national debate on gender

Japan's Princess Mako appears before well-wishers as her family celebrates Emperor Akihito's 83rd birthday at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2016. (REUTERS/Issei Kato)

News that Japan’s Princess Mako, the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito, will soon be engaged to her college boyfriend has sparked frenzied press coverage of the young princess — and has reignited debate about the status of women in Japan’s imperial family.

It was reported on Tuesday that Mako, a 25-year-old doctoral student at International Christian University in Tokyo, had decided to marry Kei Komuro, 25, an aspiring lawyer. Under current Imperial Household Law, women born to the royal family cannot inherit the throne and must become commoners after they marry. But with only five male members left in the imperial family, many have suggested that it’s time to change the rules. According to a recent survey by Kyodo News, 86 percent of respondents felt that a woman should be able to become emperor.

“Now we all know that an important imperial family member will be lost with the engagement of Princess Mako, it is urgent that the system should be reformed so that female members can remain in the imperial family. Otherwise, we will lose more and more members from the imperial family,” explained Kyoto Sangyo University historian Isao Tokoro.

Japan’s Princess Mako smiles during a meeting with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes at the government house Mburuvicha Roga in Asuncion, on September 8, 2016. (NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Laws forbidding women from becoming emperor had only been imposed in 1947 — at the same time that Japan’s post-war Constitution officially renounced the emperor’s status as a god. Japan’s eight previous female emperors, Tokoro said, had done “wonderful jobs.”

Conservative supporters of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have opposed motions to allow women to become emperor, or even to grant their sons the right to be part of the royal family. Abe himself has been silent on the issue — a stance that has been derided by critics as an affront to his self-avowed support of women’s equality. On Friday, Abe’s cabinet is expected to approve a one-time bill to allow Emperor Akihito, 83, to abdicate the throne. The emperor had reportedly requested the right to abdicate his position so that his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 57, could take the throne before Akihito’s death. For more on the story, watch the video below.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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