Princess Mako

The current Emperor is old, in his 80s, and feels that he is unable to continue to carry out his functions and duties. He plans to abdicate, something no emperor has done for over two hundred years. As the law of the land stipulates, he can only be succeeded by a male son of the male line. The Emperor has two sons, the elder of whom will succeed him. But this son has no sons of his own, so the throne will then have to be occupied by his brother, or by his nephew, currently aged ten. And if this ten year old should prove to have no sons of his own, then the imperial bloodline will fail, throwing the country into constitutional crisis. Furthermore, the 25 year old granddaughter of the Emperor, older sister of the ten year old on whom the Imperial line depends, has decided to marry a commoner, thus throwing up her royal heritage and becoming a commoner herself.

So when does this original show air on Netflix? Well, it doesn’t, until someone decides to dramatise the Japanese royal family.

The Daily Telegraph reports that Princess Mako, granddaughter of Japanese Emperor Akihito, is engaged to marry Kei Komuro, a legal assistant she met at a party at International Christian College in Tokyo. A formal announcement is set to be made next month, but apparently the princess has introduced her intended husband to her parents, who approve. Upon her marriage to a commoner, Princess Mako will herself become a commoner and the imperial family will reduce from 19 to 18 members.

The impending marriage has raised questions about the ability of the chrysanthemum throne to survive. Article 1 of the Imperial House Law (1947, copying the previous law of 1889) reads: “The Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by a male offspring in the male line belonging to the Imperial Lineage.” This means that a lot is riding on ten year old Prince Hisahito, starting with his ability to find a wife, and their ability to have boys. No boys means the end of the imperial line.

Of course, one option would be to change the law so that women can succeed to the throne. Or at the very least, to be able to maintain their imperial status even after they marry a commoner. However, these measures are something that the conservative Abe government is not keen to implement. In early 2006, when Prince Hisahito had not yet been born, the then Prime Minister Koizumi considered revising the law to allow women to ascend the throne. The move had been supported by experts convened to consider the change and by the public (according to opinion polls). However, the current Prime Minister Abe, an aide to Koizumi at the time, urged him not to amend the law. Then Hisahito was born and the pressing need for the change died away.

As Prime Minister Abe is touting “womenomics”, calling for a greater role for Japanese women in the economy to boost productivity and stave off the effects of its ageing and low birth society, it seems somewhat odd that he is not keen on the imperial family to be an example to the rest of the country. Women can do any job and should be doing any job, but not that of Empress. In a society that is failing to reproduce itself and is facing large scale population decline and population ageing, it seems as if the future of the Japanese royal family is as uncertain as that of the country that it heads. 

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Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...