Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Modern History (Controversy) of the Emperor's Succession
and the Japanese Method of Counting Years (Nengo) (part 1)

Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Jimmu
The legendary first Emperor Jimmu,
supposed reign 660-585 BC
On December 1 2001 a daughter was born to the Crown Prince of Japan, thereby stirring an old controversy on the right of succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Princess Toshi, whose given name is Aiko, is the only child of the eldest son of the current monarch, Emperor Akihito. The Emperor's eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will succeed his father to the throne. If Prince Naruhito had a son, he would be next in line to succeed, however, women are barred from succession and this is where the old controversy has been revived. Until September of 2006, the controversy was more acute. This is because the Crown Prince's younger brother, Fumihito, also had two daughters who were barred from succession. But in that year, some sixteen years after his marriage to Princess Akishino, a son was born. Now, Prince Hisahito is next in line to the throne after his uncle. Why the controversy is simply because – like so many aspects of traditional, Japanese culture – the succession law is a modern invention.

Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Jingu
Legendary Empress Jingu (r. 201-269) Mother of Emperor Ojin
and worshiped together as the kami Hachiman
Historically, the Emperor's succession has been male dominated, but not exclusively so and not legislated as such.  Some male and female Emperors even ascended the throne more than once. The Emperor also, traditionally, never stepped outside the palace grounds and most people had no idea who the Emperor was at any given time. This changed, as so many of Japan's immutable traditions did, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. As most readers probably know, this is the beginning of the modern period when the Shogun was deposed and the Emperor "restored" to primacy as head of state – a position he had neither officially or unofficially occupied since the Kamakura Period beginning about 1185. Of course, after being restored, he was still, and is today, only a figurehead. Rather, the "restoration" ushered in a semi-democratic form of government. And that government not only legislated for the people, it legislated for the Emperor too. The Imperial House Code, established in 1889, and heavily influenced by Meiji leader's newfound love affair with Prussia, instituted a number of the changes that continually return to haunt the country.
Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Genmei
Artist's impression of Empress Genmei (r.707-715)
Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Empress Gensho
Empress Gensho (r.715-724) the only Empress in
history to have succeeded her mother who was also an Empress (Genmei)

The first change I have already mentioned. The second change was to forbid agnatic succession whereby another relative – usually a brother – could succeed. The third change was that an adopted child could not succeed. The last adopted child to become Emperor was Emperor Kokaku (r.1780–1817) who stepped in because the previous Emperor, Go-Momozono, died childless. He was also the last Emperor to abdicate, which he did in favor of his son Emperor Ninko. Which brings us to the fourth change: abdication is also forbidden by the same law of 1889. Herein lies another controversy: the current Emperor Akihito, age 83, has decided to abdicate by 2017 due to health issues. This has sent the government scrambling to change the law and opponents scrambling for ways to convince the Emperor to die in office.

Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Komei
Emperor Komei (r. 1846-67) the last feudal
Emperor and last to reside in Kyoto
Shinto Shrines of Japan the Blog Guide, Emperor Meiji
Emperor Meiji (r.1867-1912) First Emperor
to preside over a parliament in Tokyo.
The law was rewritten in 1947 mostly because Japan adopted a new American influenced constitution. However changes were minor and it was pretty much kept the same, except to further add the restriction that illegitimate children also could not succeed. Which might have been a moot point since another change from the 1889 law forbade Emperors to have concubines. It also abolished collateral houses which could have otherwise contributed princes in a pinch.

But like most thorny problems in the "land of the rising" the problem of the Emperor's abdication is already being solved. This is simply because the Emperor insists he will abdicate – and who is going to stop him? Which demonstrates very clearly that tradition, religion, law, hell and damnation aside – where there's a will there's a way. So why all the fuss about succession? Simply change the law to allow daughters to succeed as well. This law is not based on Japanese tradition other than the tradition, among a not-so-small segment of the public, that men are superior to women. Of course, this is a widely held believe not only in Japan but also in America, as was clear in the recent presidential election. In fact, the majority of the population are in favor of the change, as a number of poles have shown, but among the Japanese ruling class – I mean the permanent ruling class – "not over my dead body."

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