The girl who may sit on Chrysanthemum throne

After months of controversy over who should be heir to the world's oldest hereditary monarchy, Japan may be finally nearing a decision on whether to allow a female emperor to sit on the Chrysanthemum throne.

After months of controversy over who should be heir to the world's oldest hereditary monarchy, Japan may be finally nearing a decision on whether to allow a female emperor to sit on the Chrysanthemum throne.

A Japanese news agency reported yesterday that a panel of experts set up last month by the government to debate female succession has determined that three-year-old Princess Aiko will be next in line to her father, Prince Naruhito.

The government's chief cabinet secretary, Hiroyuki Hosoda, immediately tried to quash press speculation about a future empress, saying that the experts, who are reporting directly to the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, had "only just begun discussing" the issue.

But many believe that with the survival of the supposedly 2,600-year-old patriarchal institution at stake, the panel has little room for manoeuvre despite opposition from conservatives.

The Imperial family has not produced a baby boy since 1965 and shows little sign of doing so, forcing most observers to face the inevitable: a recent survey found that 87 per cent of the Japanese public support the idea of an empress.

Even the conservative Prime Minister has thrown his weight behind the progressives, recently stating: "In this day and age, I'm sure that the nation would welcome a female emperor."

Some pundits have speculated that Mr Koizumi has deliberately excluded right-wing traditionalists from the panel, making it what the right-leaning Sankei newspaper calls, "a rubber-stamp for the government's foregone conclusion that female emperors should be permitted".

The current crisis was sparked last year by Aiko's mother, Princess Masako, who is widely believed to have buckled under the pressure of trying to produce a male heir after she disappeared from public sight for months with what was subsequently diagnosed as a "stress-related disorder".

The head of the Imperial Household Agency, Toshio Yuasa, had earlier stated publicly that he wanted the princess to have another child, even though she had endured seven years of intense media speculation, and a miscarriage, to have her first.

Although a total of eight empresses have temporarily warmed the Chrysanthemum throne over the centuries, none has gone on to give birth to a child that later succeeded her, meaning the panel is debating what traditionalists believe is a hereditary tradition dating back to before a pope sat in Rome.

Until recently, a steady stream of concubines kept the Imperial household supplied with male babies: Emperor Meiji, who ruled over Japan's transition to a modern industrial economy until 1912, had 15 offspring with five concubines, one of whom succeeded him.

But the tradition of concubines was abolished after the Second World War, so the burden has fallen on current Emperor Akihito's small family.

Opposition to a female emperor is strongest among followers of Shinto, which was the official state religion in wartime Japan and which revered the Emperor as a god.

Although a far less potent force today, Shinto groups still run thousands of shrines around the country and are an important source of votes in the conservative countryside for Mr Koizumi's party, the ruling Liberal Democrats.

The panel's final recommendation is not expected until later this year - but with interest so intense it will be a miracle if its conclusions don't leak before then. Most expect the eventual result to be Empress Aiko, but some have more radical solutions to the problem.

A letter to the Japan Times last week said: "Let the monarchy come to a quiet end. As a result, the annoying Imperial Household Agency will be disbanded, Tokyo's parkland will be vastly increased and taxes can be cut. It would seem to be a no-brainer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Factory Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer ba...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003