Japan’s constitutional dilemma: only men are allowed on the Chrysanthemum throne
August 6 (UPI) – the question of who will succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne – the Japanese monarchy – when there is a shortage of male heirs is in play again after the panel set up to examine the succession recently ruled out allowing a woman to take the throne.
While the emperor has no political role in the constitution of Japan, the symbolic and cultural significance is linked to a mythological past in which the emperor is a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu.
the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30, 2019 and the enthronement of his eldest son Naruhito the next day as the 126th Emperor of Japan reopened public debate on the existing imperial system, which clarifies that only a man can succeed the throne.
Ancient Japan was a matriarchal society, with women as rulers until end of 7th century when the Taika reform brought a new Tang Dynasty-style social system from China at the end of Empress Kōgyoku’s reign. But the panel announced that the current male line of succession must remain unchanged.
Approval to allow women to ascend the throne seems to grow among the public, but support for maintaining the male line of succession remains strong among conservatives.
Even though 13 of the 18 members of the Imperial Family are women, some politicians are determined to maintain the male succession system and even advocate bring in men from distant branches of the family – virtually any parent who could be a man.
One of the main arguments against a woman’s ascension to the throne is the dilution of the Imperial lineage, in the sense that a reigning Empress could marry a commoner and have their children. But there have been eight women on the Chrysanthemum Throne (nine if you include Empress Jingu, who reigned 201-269), none of whom were recorded as having been married during their reign. They were all followed by males, thus maintaining the male line.
In the case of Empress Jingu, although she was removed from the list during the Meiji period and replaced by his son, his “tomb” continues to be venerated. She has the honor of being the first woman to appear on a Japanese banknote.
The women leaders of Japan
The myths surrounding the imperial origins of Japan are firmly rooted in matriarchal influences. Shintoism and the traditions of the cult of the emperor center on the belief in the sun goddess, Amaterasu, widely regarded as the first ancestor of the Japanese imperial family. The fact that the Japanese the cosmogonic myth revolves around a female deity – and that the belief and worship of the goddess continues to this day in popular religious practice – would appear to be at odds with a determination to maintain a rigid patriarchal system.
Most notable among the first female rulers of Japan was Queen Himiko, who unified part of the country into a powerful kingdom, ruling over 30 states during the latter part of the “Yayoi period” from about 175 to 248 AD.
Himiko, single, led an isolated life, spending her time in magic and witchcraft, and was helped in state affairs by his brother. Discussion continues among historians as to her true identity, but the fact remains that she was a powerful woman who ruled Japan for six decades.
The first known woman to obtain the title of Empress in Japan was Suiko, who ruled from AD 554 to 628. Suiko followed in Himiko’s footsteps by appointing a man, Prince Shotoku, as her regent. Like Himiko, Suiko was in power at a time of social, cultural and political change, and was seen as “divinely possessed. “ Empress Jingu followed.
Empress Kogyoku (594-661) held the seat of power twice – the second time known as Empress Saimei, after the Taika reform, a series of sweeping political innovations, in 655. The Last Woman on the throne was Empress Go-Sakuramachi, who reigned from 1762 to 1770 after the death of his father and the abdication of his brother, Emperor Momozono.
Women as spiritual leaders
This precedent, the delegation to a man – usually a relative – of the administration and organization of their movement continued with subsequent female spiritual leaders. Most of the new religions that appeared in Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Omotokyo, Tenrikyo, and Tensho kotai jingukyo, were founded by women. But the teachings and worldviews reflected established precedents and did not address gender or power relations between women and men. Rather, spiritual awakening, for most of these female leaders, involved embracing what were considered masculine qualities in order to communicate their message.
Deguchi Nao, (founder of Omoto-kyo, a new religion from Shintoism), for example, spoke in a male voice, and used masculine language forms when possessed. Kitamura Sayo (founder of Tensho kotai jingu-kyo, also derived from Shinto and known as the “dancing religion” because followers practice a dance) wore men’s clothing, possibly demonstrating that spiritual authority requires masculinity.
By conforming to the cultural norm of man-centered authority, women were guaranteed a more attentive audience, who took their words seriously.
If being a man is considered as a cultural norm, what future for the imperial house? And – as a politician, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono, commented – what happens when there are no more male heirs?
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Emperor Akihito of Japan (L) greets supporters during Her Majesty’s 83rd birthday at East Plaza, Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan, December 23, 2016. Photo by Keizo Mori / UPI |