Monday, February 13, 2006

The Japan Times on the Royal Pregnancy

I thought I was blunt enough in my previous comment. But the JT pulls no punches it its editorial. Some highlights:
No wonder the Crown Princess gets depressed. The spectacle of the chasm between the Imperial family and the 21st century has long been enough to depress anyone. But then, just when the princess must have thought the gap might be closing a bit, given the prime minister's efforts to win the right of succession for the family's female members, along comes an unexpected pregnancy to send everything back to square one.

It is not that the princess would not wish to congratulate her brother- and sister-in-law, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, on their joyous news. The whole nation does. It is just that she must dread having to explain to her 4-year-old daughter why people's joy seems to be so dependent on this new cousin being a boy. Whatever happened to the idea that girls are just as special, just as valued, as boys? How do you explain why some people think being a girl is such a crippling defect it automatically disqualifies you from a job that carries no power anyway? Or why it would still be empowering to women for a woman to accede to a position of such bizarre powerlessness?


If Japan was truly ready for a female emperor, why is everyone so thrilled about this pregnancy? Television announcers all but wept breaking the news on Tuesday. And opponents of the prime minister's plan appear giddy with relief at the thought that a boy could yet appear and save the nation from the frightful prospect of a reigning empress who could be succeeded in turn by her own daughters.


Some might argue that this is all a tempest in a teacup, because the emperor system is purely symbolic, anyway. But that is exactly why it is important. What better vehicle than the monarchy to set a symbolic example on social issues? Last week's news has set that effort back -- but there is still room for optimism. The new baby might be a girl, thus putting this crucial debate back on track. Here's hoping.


Anonymous said...

If it's a girl, I think they should name her Amaterasu just to maximize the irony.

Anonymous said...

My thought is divided. One line is that having a female heir is a good thing, as you said. (I have something to say in this context, but skip for now.) Another is that "having no heir is a good thing".

The current situation of the Emperor is a result of the will of the Allies to prevent regeneration of dictatorship either by a monarch or a tyrant. The Emperor does not have any real political power. He does not even have citizen's rights. The Constitution defines several formal roles of him, but all of them need "counsel and approval" of the prime minister. The rationale of the previous disbanding of the Lower House of the Parliament was disputable. Nevertheless it was possible because the PM has a de facto right to disband at his will without specific justification. Formally the disbanding is one of the roles of the Emperor defined in the Constitution. But since it must follow "counsel and approval", the Emperor cannot do anything but conduct what the PM decides. Despite formal esteem, the Emperor is de facto a subordinate of the PM. Worse, since the role is determined by birth, it is a kind of slavery.

The situation is much different from that of the King of Thailand who can use his formal role to dismiss the PM, for instance, at his (royal) decision. Thus the King acted as an arbitrator when the nation was in bitter schism.

I believe that the slavery should be abolished. But explicit ways to do it invite intractable resistance in the nation. Let time do that. I do not mean that Japan should become a republic. It is not a good thing either that the formal head of the nation is a politician who may have many political rivals. Rather, I think, it is better to keep the throne empty and to have a civil servant as the deputy of the throne. This solution is obviously odd, but the Japanese people appreciate emptiness in Buddhist contexts. I think we can accept it when we find it inevitable.

James Annan said...

Oh, I love the idea of an empty throne - very Zen. Perhaps at the inauguration, everyone could applaud with one hand :-)

We are used to having entirely powerless royals in the west. I believe they cannot even vote, along with lunatics and criminals. Some might say that specifying the royals in addition to those two categories is redundant, but it does clarify their status :-)