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Japan's Crown Princess Masako. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Japan's Crown Princess Masako. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Imperial sexism

As Japan’s new emperor takes the throne, his wife will have to wait elsewhere

By WITW Staff on May 1, 2019

When Japan’s Emperor Akihito abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son, Naruhito, on Wednesday, Masako, Naruhito’s wife of 26 years and the new empress, will not be in attendance. But in a first for the modern era, there will be a woman present at the ascension ceremony in the imperial palace — Satsuki Katayama, the sole woman in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.

According to Imperial Household Law, women are not only forbidden from taking the throne themselves, but are barred from even witnessing the succession ceremony. Conservatives have strongly opposed efforts to allow women to obtain the throne. Women are also forced to abdicate their royal standing if they marry someone not of royal or aristocratic status, one of many harsh stipulations that apply solely to female members of the royal line.

But given that Japan’s parliament had to pass a bill modifying the Imperial Household Law to allow Akihito to abdicate the throne in the first place, the upcoming ascension ceremony — and Masako’s conspicuous absence — has become a telling symbol of Japan’s reluctance to embrace women’s empowerment, and not just in the royal family.

The imperial line — the world’s oldest — is purported to stretch back 2,700 years, and contains at least eight instances of women who took the throne when they served as empresses. The stipulation that only men can inherit the throne is in fact a much more recent tradition imposed by the Meiji Dynasty in the 19th century. Despite conservative resistance to granting women within the royal family some measure of equality, a recent poll by Japan newspaper the Asahi Shimbun showed that Japanese people feel differently — more than 75 percent of those surveyed said they would support an empress on the throne.

“The idea that succession is limited to males is a modern invention,” explained Kathryn Tanaka, a professor of cultural and historical studies at Otemae University. “This is not about ‘tradition,’ but rather reflects specific political and patriarchal world views.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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