Japan’s Princess Mako, the 25-year-old eldest daughter of Prince Akishino and granddaughter of Emperor, Akihito, will be giving up her royal title for love in order to marry a commoner. The Princess met Kei Komuro, a 25-year-old, graduate student, paralegal and aspiring lawyer while the two were students at Tokyo’s International Christian University in 2012. He apparently proposed to her about a year after they met.
Japan’s monarchy, also known as, the Chrysanthemum Throne, is based on the Imperial Household law. This law states that only legitimate males (male descendants who have emperors on their father’s side) are allowed to ascend to the throne. Female members of the Imperial Royal Family cannot inherit the throne, she must become a commoner after she marry and future children are ineligible for throne as well. The last time a woman last held the title to Chrysanthemum Throne was 1771 and there have only been 8 female monarchs (two who assumed the throne twice) in Japan’s history.
A Princess also loses her status as an Imperial family member. Once Princess Mako is married, she will have to relinquish her title from birth, her official membership in the Imperial Family, and any monetary allowance that she was receiving from the state. The state will pay her a lump sum allowance once she is married to start her new life. By submitting a marriage notification, she will be registered as an ordinary citizen and be given voting and other rights, which she didn’t have as part of the royal family because they are prohibited from interfering in politics under Japan’s constitution.
As part of tradition, Princess Mako and Komuro will go through a series of rituals and procedures before their wedding:
- Nosai no Gi, is a traditional rite of betrothal, the groom’s “messenger” will have to visit the Imperial Palace with gifts to officially make a vow of engagement.
- Kokki no Gi , the date of the wedding will be announced by the groom’s messenger visiting the palace
- Choken no Gi, the Princess Mako will express her appreciation for the Emperor and the Empress.
- Judai no Gi , On the day of their wedding, a messenger from the groom’s side will come to collect the princess at the palace before commencing the wedding.
The pending engagement has also re-ignited a national debate on gender in Japan. It even drew criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 2016.
There are about 25 monarchies in the world and most forbid women outright from taking the throne; this includes Japan, all eight Arab monarchies Cambodia, Lesotho and Brunei. Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Spain are some of the few where the successors to the throne are all young women.
Under the current Imperial House law, the monarch’s succession has become increasingly difficult, as there’s about five male members left in the imperial family.
Historian, Dr. Isao Tokoro, at Kyoto Sangyo University said, “Now we all know that an important imperial family member will be lost with the engagement of Princess Mako, it is urgent that the system should be reformed so that female members can remain in the imperial family. Otherwise, we will lose more and more members from the imperial family.”
This situation is will more than likely be be compounded by Japan’s shrinking population due to its extremely low birth rate.
In 2005, an advisory committee was convened to propose allowing women to ascend the throne to help relieve the pressure on the imperial family to produce a male heir. The idea had support broad support in Japan.
The panel was going to recommend that the law be revised to allow a female monarch and submit a bill for approval from both houses of parliament. At the time, Japan’s imperial family, led by Emperor Akihito, had not produced a male heir since the 1960s. The Crowned Princess Masako, during that time only had one child, a 3-year-old daughter named Aiko. The need to have a boy had put such enormous pressure on that she suffered a nervous breakdown and spent the following year out of the public eye to recuperate. The first draft of the reformed bill ended up getting retracted due to opposition and in 2006, Prince Hisahito was born to the younger of the emperor’s sons, providing the much needed male heir.
The majority of Japan’s population feel that it’s time to change the rules and permanently overhaul the law, including the current Emperor Akihito, 83, who wants to abdicate the throne but cannot due the Imperial Law.
A recent survey conducted by Kyodo News, found that about 86 percent of respondents felt that a woman should be able to become emperor.