The Japanese government is apprehensive about the country’s royal princesses. But the government’s concern isn’t about the true intentions of potential suitors. It’s about whether to change a dusty law that says the princesses be stripped of imperial status if they wed commoners.
Chief government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said Friday the government will be begin hearings next month to determine whether royal women can retain their imperial status after marriage. Mr. Fujimura called the situation “a very urgent matter,” considering the need to provide stability to the royal family where young, single princesses grossly outnumber the rest of the ageing men. And Emperor Akihito’s fragile health of late has highlighted a need to consider changes: Amending the law so that more people born into the Imperial family can actually retain Imperial status would be one way to lessen the burden of official duties on the 78-year-old emperor. The final decision is in the hands of parliament. But the possible change doesn’t concern the elephant in the imperial palace. Mr. Fujimura was clear that this particular female royal issue should not be mixed up with the other, significantly more tricky matter concerning royal women: short on male descendants, will Japan ever allow women the right to become empress? The empress issue gained some momentum in official channels back in 2005 under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s encouragement that the monarchy be modernized, only to be quickly squashed by his more conservative successors.
Former Supreme Court Justice Itsuo Sonobe, who sat on the 2005 government council that reviewed whether women could ascend the throne, will lead the February hearings. Experts will be brought in to study the matter from various perspectives, including the constitution, religion, history, culture and art, Mr. Fujimura said. The Cabinet Secretariat will be responsible for compiling a paper to re-draft the current law. That will then be put to opposition parties and the public alike.