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My Opinion on Female-Headed Imperial Households

Yoshitaka Shima
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

In October 2011, Shingo Haketa, Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, proposed to the government that Miyake-a household of a male Imperial Family member other than the Emperor and the inner-court members-may also comprise a female Imperial Family member in order to lessen the burdens of the official duties on His Majesty the Emperor. In November, His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino also mentioned the potential introduction of a retirement age for the Emperor's status. These have triggered active discussions in various fields about the establishment of a female-headed Miyake.

According to the Imperial Household Agency website, an enormous number of acts in matters of state and official duties are carried out by H. M. the Emperor. In 2010, he reportedly signed or sealed approximately 900 cabinet approval documents; had about 240 audiences and meetings in the Palace; received 36 guests of honor from abroad; received new and leaving ambassadors from 56 countries; received ambassadors with their spouses appointed to 93 countries; and sent about 420 telegraphs to foreign heads of state.

In addition, H. M. the Emperor must fulfill the critical duty of conducting ritual ceremonies in the Court. The Imperial Palace has the Three Shrines called Kashikodokoro, Koreiden, and Shinden. Kashikodokoro enshrines the Imperial Ancestor Amaterasu-omikami (Sun goddess) and the sacred mirror; Koreiden houses the departed souls of the successive Emperors and Imperial Families; and Shinden enshrines gods of heaven and earth. Many ritual ceremonies are performed solemnly in the Imperial Palace Shrines throughout the year not only as the Imperial Family's private events but also in praying for the prosperity of the state and nation.

We can readily realize that such a wide variety of duties place an extreme burden on H. M. the Emperor, considering his advanced age. I was probably not alone when I felt grateful to Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress for their mercy as well as when I found it painful for their advanced age, witnessing them visiting afflicted people around Tohoku in the wake of the East Japan Earthquake Disaster.

Today, there are five inner-court members-the Emperor, the Empress, the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and Princess Toshinomiya-and eighteen Miyake members in total who support the duties of H. M. the Emperor: five in Akishinonomiya, two in Hitachinomiya, two in Mikasanomiya, four in the family of Prince Tomohito, one in Katsuranomiya, and four in Takamadonomiya. Four among seven male Imperial Family members have already been over sixty years old, and six of eight unmarried female members have already attained the majority. It is obvious to everyone that the number of Imperial Family members will decrease over time, as the current Imperial House Law provides that princesses shall leave their status as Imperial Family members after marriage.

Therefore, it is quite understandable that the Grand Steward proposed the establishment of a Miyake headed by a princess in order to increase Imperial Family members supporting H. M. the Emperor and that H. I. H. Prince Akishino suggested introducing a retirement age for the Emperor. Indeed, we should urgently address the issues of reducing the burdens of the official duties on H. M. the Emperor and increasing Imperial Family members who support the duties of H. M. the Emperor.

Allowing the establishment of a female-headed Miyake would never, however, be a panacea for those issues. Even if a princess formed and headed her own Miyake after marriage, various difficult problems would remain, including the status of her spouse and children, their eligibility for the throne, and the possibility of opening the door to a female Emperor or to the throne succeeded in the female line of the Imperial Lineage.

So, various people have expressed opinions against the creation of a Miyake headed by a female Imperial Family member. On December 8th, Sosei Nippon, a bipartisan group of conservative Diet members chaired by ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, declared with fifty Diet members that they were against the establishment of a female-headed Miyake and the Emperor should have been in the male line of the Imperial Lineage. It is also reported that a male-line succession faction within the Democratic Party of Japan is holding study meetings.

Moreover, some argue for the Imperial status to be re-granted to eleven former Miyakes that were forced to give up their Imperial status almost coercively on October 22nd, 1947, during the turbulent period immediately after the war. Though I do not know the current circumstances of those former Miyakes in detail, only four or five of them would be allegedly applicable today, since the rest of them have already become extinct or only have a female successor. Among them, it is widely known that Mr. Tsuneyasu Takeda, a descendant of Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda, is actively developing an argument for maintaining the male-line succession of the throne.

In contrast to these arguments for the Imperial succession in the male line, others maintain that the female or female-line Emperor should also be allowed. It would be difficult, however, to obtain consensus from the large majority of the nation about revising the principle of the male-line succession, which is a long-standing tradition.

As I wrote in this section previously (For Perpetuity of the Imperial Lineage [Koutou eizoku no tameni], January 2005), I believe that the best solution is to amend Article 9 of the Imperial House Law ("The Emperor and the members of the Imperial Family may not adopt children") to offer the Emperor and other members of the Imperial Family the right of adoption. Of course, who should be adopted needs to be examined carefully in the Imperial House Council, and candidates must be connected to the Imperial Lineage. Once adopted, they would gradually learn the grace of a member of the Imperial Family after obtaining Imperial status.

Alternatively, the second-best solution would be accepting the proposal for establishing and maintaining a female-headed Miyake only for one generation. If those who had been raised as members of the Imperial Family over their entire lives and maintained their Imperial status after marriage could assist the Emperor in his official duties, it would be one effective means for resolving the urgent problem as well as being in accord with our natural feelings. If their spouses connected to the Imperial Lineage, they would potentially be eligible for the throne, and their male children would also be granted eligibility for the throne.

In any case, the immediate urgency is to ease the burdens on H. M. the Emperor. The Imperial Throne will be secure for the time being, as it is to be inherited by the Crown Prince, Prince Akishino, and Prince Hisahito of Akishino after the current Emperor. I do not think, for now, that we have to discuss the issue of the female-line and female Emperor.

Yoshitaka Shima
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Saga Prefecture in 1952. Graduated from the School of Law, Waseda University in 1976. Withdrew from the Doctoral Program, Graduate School of Law, Kokugakuin University in 1982 after completing the required course work. Specializes in Japanese Legal History. Became an Assistant Professor, School of Social Sciences, Waseda University in 1991, and a Professor at the same institution in 1995, after serving as Assistant Professor, Meijo University. Serving as Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University since 2004. Received his doctoral degree in law from Kyoto University.
His major publications include Formation of the Modern Imperial Institution: How the Meiji Imperial House Law Was Created [Kindai Koshitsu Seido no Keisei: Meiji Koshitsu Tenpan no Dekirumade] (Seibundoh, 1994); Meiji Imperial House Law [Meiji Koshitsu Tenpan], Vols. 1 and 2 (co-editor, in Collection of Materials on Japanese Legislation [Nippon Rippo Shiryo Zenshu], Vols. 16 and 17, Shinzansha, 1996 and 1997); Materials Related to the Draft Constitution by Genroin [Genroin Kokken-an Hensan Shiryo] (editor, Kokushokankokai, 2000); Short History of Waseda University [Waseda Daigaku Shoshi] (Waseda University Press, 2003); Complete Collection of Taneomi Soejima [Soejima Taneomi Zenshu] (editor, Keibunsha, 2004- ); From the Ritsuryo System to the Constitutional System [Ritsuryo-sei kara Rikken-sei e] (Seibundo, 2009); and Shigenobu Okuma [Okuma Shigenobu] (Saga Castle History Museum, 2011).