Japan desperate for male heir to oldest monarchy

Japan's Imperial Family is facing a crisis. Two thousand seven hundred years after its foundation by the mythical Emperor Jimmu, the world's oldest hereditary monarchy is running out of male heirs.

The government has become so worried that it has dispatched envoys to several European countries, including Britain, to study a revolutionary possibility: that the law may be changed to allow a woman to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Compared with their British counterparts, Japan's royals are models of decorum, thrift and restraint. Cloistered behind the moat and thick walls of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, they emerge publicly only a few times a year to attend national athletic meetings, plant trees, and wave at their subjects from behind bullet-proof glass.

Japan's compliant media have no truck with tabloid-style muck-raking, but the less reverent of the country's many weekly magazines have becoming increasingly preoccupied with the absence of imperial offspring.

Rumours about a future empress appeared to have been decisively quashed earlier this year by the newly-appointed Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, Sadame Kamakura. "We are not thinking about the question of an empress," he said. "Our current system clearly specifies male succession to the throne, and it is working adequately."

But privately the agency, an obsessively cautious government organisation which controls every aspect of the Imperial Family, has been discreetly studying the possibility for several years. The problem has become increasingly worrisome with the continued failure of Emperor Akihito's children to produce sons.

Since their wedding in June 1993, Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako have had no children. Next in line is the Emperor's younger son, 30-year old Prince Akishino, and both his children are girls. After him the succession would fall to a line of obscure and ageing uncles and cousins.

Since Prince Akishino, no male child has been born to any member of the Imperial Family.

Court officials have gathered written materials from Buckingham Palace and, in nine days' time, a senior official of the Imperial Household Agency will fly to Europe on a hastily arranged visit to the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. In Copenhagen, they will be briefed by court officials on the constitutional referendum in 1953 which allowed Queen Margrethe II to succeed after 600 years of Danish kings.

Any change would be complicated and controversial, requiring a parliamentary amendment to the Imperial Household Law and Constitution, which strictly regulate the duties, conduct and spending of the Emperor's family.

To a large extent, their low profile is a matter of cautious necessity. After the Second World War, Emperor Akihito's father, the late Hirohito, narrowly escaped being tried as a war criminal and the role of the Imperial institution arouses strong emotions in both nationalists and left-wingers. "Whether we recognise a female heir in the future depends very much on whether the Japanese people are ready to accept her or not," said an official of the Household Agency.

Women played a prominent part in Japan's early history. The founding deity, from whom the present Emperor claims descent, was the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-no-Omikami.

The last Empress, Go-Sakuramachi, abdicated in 1770, and altogether seven out of Japan's 124 sovereigns have been women, although, like princesses throughout history, they have occasionally been the focus of scandals. In the eighth century, the Empress Shoken precipitated an alarming power struggle after an affair with a Rasputin-like monk.

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice